(PCRM News Release 02/11/2011) SEATTLE–Rabbits and live ferrets are unlawfully used in invasive and often lethal procedures in the pediatrics residency program at the University of Washington, says the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) in a federal complaint filed Feb. 10. Nonanimal education methods are used by more than 85 percent of U.S. pediatrics programs surveyed by PCRM, including Oregon Health & Science University, Yale-New Haven Medical Center, and Stanford University.
“It is unnecessary to traumatize and harm animals to teach pediatric emergency procedures, especially when validated simulators developed to replace animals are widely used,” says pediatrician Leslie Brown, M.D., a PCRM member who cosigned the federal complaint with John Pippin, M.D., F.A.C.C. “A human infant’s anatomy is different from a ferret’s or a rabbit’s, and residents at UW can get a better education using human patient simulators.”
Pediatrics training at the University of Washington involves using live ferrets for endotracheal intubation. This involves repeatedly forcing a plastic tube through the mouth and into the windpipe (trachea) of a live ferret. Animals used in these training procedures often suffer tracheal bruising, bleeding, scarring, severe pain, and even death. To teach chest tube insertion, UW faculty kill rabbits. Pediatrics trainees then make an incision and place a hollow drainage tube between the animals’ ribs.
UW could replace the use of animals with the tools available at its state-of-the-art Institute for Simulation and Interprofessional Studies. The facility owns numerous simulators, including the SimNewB, which was developed in partnership with the American Academy of Pediatrics. If the institute were fully utilized, the university could immediately replace its use of animals without incurring additional costs.
UW’s animal use program has a track record of negligence, resulting in numerous cited violations of the Animal Welfare Act. For example, UW was cited in 2009 when a nonhuman primate starved to death due to neglect and in 2007 when unauthorized surgeries were performed on pigs.
PCRM’s complaint, which is being filed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Western Region Animal Care office, states, “UW is further violating the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) because superior training methods exist that could replace the school’s use of live animals for pediatrics education.” It further alleges inadequate oversight in the approval of the training protocol by the school’s animal care committee.
The Animal Welfare Act’s implementing regulations “require that a principal investigator—including course instructors—consider alternatives to procedures that may cause more than momentary or slight pain or distress to any animal used for research purposes.”