Study: practice on live animals better training for military medics

During July of last year, the University of Tennessee College of Medicine in Chattanooga joined Johns Hopkins University in no longer using animals in its training programs for medical students.

Animal rights groups have successfully pressured colleges and universities to end their use of animals in training medical students and for medical experiments for years. As a result, almost every hospital and higher educational institution in the US and Canada no longer use animals in their experiments or training programs.

However, their victories maybe short-lived. A new study resulting for research sponsored by the Society of Medical Health Professionals in the journal Military Medicine suggests that practicing on live animals is excellent preparation for military medics in real-life combat situations.

Instead of using live animals to teach people how to treat traumatic injuries, simulators (that animal rights groups advocate using) are used in their place. However, National Post reports that medics interviewed for the SMHP manuscript and served in Afghanistan state that live animals provide a more realistic look at battlefield trauma that simulators cannot replace or replicate. Consequently, the authors of the study recommended that live animals continue being used for combat-care training.

Animal rights groups counter that there are suits available people can wear that not only provide the necessary liquids to simulate blood and other body fluids and where people can act out the kind of pain or reactions a patient would feel in combat. However, National Post states that Canadian medics that used live animals instead of simulators in a variety of situations were quoted in the manuscript saying that live animals were better for training purposes:

One said the training helped desensitize medics to seeing gruesome injuries and understand “how much destruction a body can take and how little they need to do to sustain a life.”

Said another: “You do not sense the urgency of someone’s life slipping away without seeing the amount of blood that can be lost and how quickly it happens without (pig-assisted training).”

A spokesperson for the animal rights organization Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) countered with a 2015 study stating researchers found there was no difference in skill levels when trainees used live animals or simulators. What PCRM’s spokesperson doesn’t mention is that the use of animals was useful for participants in the 2015 manuscript and they were a component that helped medical students learn how to successfully treat traumatic injuries.

Thanks to PETA’s lobbying efforts, unfortunately, the surgical live trauma tissue training (LTTT) used by the US military where live animals were used to train medical personnel was largely canceled two years ago. Hopefully, the results of this research will give enough momentum to bring the practice back in military and civilian medical programs too.

Using live animals for training medical personnel gives students the necessary knowledge to help save lives. Simulators can be used but even they can only go so far in giving medical trainees the necessary knowledge and experience to make quick decisions to diagnose and treat trauma. Without the knowledge gained by using live animals it will result in more serious injuries and even death. But that is ultimately what animals rights groups like PETA and the PCRM want.