Technology replaces live animals in medical training

  • Wednesday, November 9, 2016 9:46am
  • Opinion

Washington University medical school is weaning itself off the use of cats in medical training after concluding that technological advances in simulators and mannequins reduced the need to use live animals. The transition is a responsible one we can support.

The school resisted years of pressure from animals rights groups to use alternative teaching methods and was the last in the country to use animals to train new doctors how to insert breathing tubes. The reason for not changing the training was medically defensible, and patients should appreciate that the university did not cave in to bullying tactics by animal protectionists.

Dr. Bo Kennedy, a pediatric emergency specialist with St. Louis Children’s Hospital, has said that the anatomy of a cat’s windpipe most closely mimicked that of a newborn infant. Using cats provided the best training ground for medical students.

Any parent who has anxiously waited while a doctor safely inserted a life-saving breathing tube into a newborn’s delicate airway understands the importance of that training.

Hostile campaigns by animal rights groups have tried shaming doctors into using less-effective, alternative training methods. The right time to start such a transition is when technological advances permit doctors to simulate medical procedures as precisely as possible using mannequins instead of animals.

Intimidation and threats by some animal ethics groups caused some medical schools to lie when answering questions about their teaching methods. The groups often portray scientists and doctors as sadistically using animals in teaching and research labs, but oversight agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture have not found those portrayals to be accurate.

Scientific advances and medical training that benefit humans no longer have to come at the expense of animals, and animal experimentation should be avoided whenever possible in favor of alternative research strategies.

Most non-human scientific and medical research uses less complex animals, such as rats and mice, which tend not to generate the same levels of protest as procedures involving animals that humans empathize with. Primate research, which is highly controversial, now accounts for less than a half of 1 percent of animal research. It has, nevertheless, led to life-changing medical advances for serious public health challenges such as a treatment for deep brain stimulation in Parkinson’s disease.

Safeguards and oversight that ensure animals receive humane treatment in laboratory settings help ease the moral dilemma. Washington University said cats in its training lab will be adopted by medical school employees and that no cats have been injured since the lab opened in 1988.

As public awareness increases, and technological developments lead to more lifelike mannequins and simulation devices, the use of live animals almost certainly will decrease. Federal ethical guidelines for the use of humans in research were developed only in 1974. Similar guidelines on animals are long overdue.

— The St. Louis Post-Dispatch,

Oct. 18

More in Opinion

Peter Zuyus
What about Alaska’s seniors in the 2022 governor race?

When 130,000 seniors speak, candidates will listen.

This image available under the Creative Commons license shows the outline of the state of Alaska filled with the pattern of the state flag.
Opinion: Bringing broadband to all Alaskans

Too many Alaskans face barriers accessing the internet.

This photo shows a stack of pocket constitutions at the Alaska State Capitol. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Join us in voting against a constitutional convention

Voting no on a constitutional convention is vital to the well-being and stability of our state.

Michael O’Meara.
Point of View: Tell BOEM how you feel

It seems like BOEM should prioritize input from people most likely to be affected if leases are sold

The State of Alaska, Department of Administration, Office of Information Technology webpage. (Screenshot/
Cloud migration now underway will strengthen, enhance State IT systems

At the most basic level, cloud computing is the delivery of computing services remotely

Jessica Cook, left, and Les Gara stand in The Peninsula Clarion’s offices on Thursday, June 30, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Alaska Voices: Better schools for a better economy

We need leaders who care about our children’s futures

A resident casts their vote in the regular municipal election Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020, at the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
Voices of the Peninsula: This is our borough and city

By Therese Lewandowski Another election already? Yes! This is our local elections… Continue reading

The Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation building is seen in Juneau, Alaska, in March 2022. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)
Opinion: APFC keeps steady keel during turbulent year

FY2022 was a challenging year for all investors

Homer Foundation
Point of View: Nonprofits provide essential services not provided by cities

By our count, nonprofits provide more than 100 jobs to our communities

Opinion: Don’t get scammed like I nearly did

I should have just turned off the computer.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce campaigns for governor as he walks in the 65th annual Soldotna Progress Days Parade on Saturday, July 23, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. Pierce resigned as borough mayor effective Sept. 30, 2022, to focus on his gubernatorial campaign. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Voices of the Peninsula: ‘It has been an honor to serve’

Borough mayor gives send-off ahead of departure