On Wednesday, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture concerning the use of live pigs for medical training at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. The pigs are used as part of Advanced Trauma Life Support training. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, ATLS training “typically involves performing various medical procedures including cutting into the chest, neck, and abdomen.” Not surprisingly, the pigs are killed after being victimized by unneeded surgeries.

The PCRM states in their letter to the USDA that this is a violation of the Animal Welfare Act “because there are non-animal training methods available that are educationally equivalent or superior.”

Alternate training methods include using high-tech mannequins such as Synman and TraumaMan. Both have been recommended by the American College of Surgeons. Doctors such as Stephen Smith, chief of acute care and surgery at Allegheny General Hospital, believe these sorts of simulator devices “are better than animals because they’re based on the human anatomy.” Other doctors and medical schools obviously agree, as only 11 of the 225 medical facilities offering trauma training in North America still use live animals for this purpose.

I wouldn’t count on the generally useless USDA to intervene on behalf of the pigs. See, for example, the statement of USDA spokesman David Sacks: “Our focus is on the welfare of the animals we regulate. It’s not on telling the registrants what kind of research to conduct or how they conduct their experiments.” Sacks says an inspector will be sent “in the near future” to make sure the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center is complying with federal law and following procedures demonstrating that it’s properly caring for the animals and has looked at alternatives.

The foot dragging of the USDA is no reason to get discouraged. The PCRM has had success at ending unnecessary use of animals in medical training. Just this year, medical schools in Tennessee and Wisconsin both stopped using live pigs as teaching tools. If they hear from enough people, maybe the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center will end this cruel practice as well. Send a message to UPMC’s Chief Medical Officer to stop using live pigs for training.

Photo Credit: sarahemcc