Brown medical school defends its use of animals in training ER doctors
The Globe’s Aug. 17 editorial on emergency physician training at Brown University’s medical school failed to consider complexities of medical education that can involve trade-offs between human health and animal subjects (“Time for a humane change at Brown”). No humane organization, Brown or any other, would use animal subjects if an identical simulated subject were developed. But for some life-saving procedures, that simulated subject does not currently exist.
Once each year, Brown and Rhode Island Hospital teach residents a procedure called cricothyroidotomy, a critical technique that creates an airway when a patient’s natural airway is blocked by swelling or trauma. Published scientific evidence does not support use of mannequins or other simulators for this procedure, which must be accomplished within seconds to restore breathing and avoid brain injury or death.
For this training only, we continue to use living animals, under general anesthesia and supervision of a veterinarian. We comply fully with all laws and regulations regarding the use of animals. We do not take this action lightly. We believe, beyond doubt, that if your loved one were rushed to an emergency department in need of a rare, life-saving procedure, you would want a physician who was trained in the techniques most supported by the scientific literature.
Dr. Jeremiah Schuur
Chair, department of emergency medicine
Warren Alpert Medical School
Doctors gain essential experience in training on live animals
I believe that your editorial uses flawed reasoning in condemning the continued use of live animals in education. Working on a living animal — human or nonhuman — is not the same as working on a simulated device, no matter how sophisticated the device.
The emotional response of cutting into a living animal itself should elicit a strong response. Most people would want a medical professional to have had that experience, and to understand his or her response to it, for the first time on a nonhuman animal rather than, say, on their child. Medical students who train on live animals report profound reactions to and respect for their subjects as well as deep appreciation for their role in helping them learn to perfect their skills.
As for the many schools that have abandoned the use of live animals in teaching: The animal rights community has created an environment that has increased the level of harassment and cost to the point that many schools simply cannot continue to include these classes in their curriculum. This is a loss to medicine and for public health.
While simulated models will increase in sophistication and should continue to be used more and more in education and research, there is still is a fundamental difference between a model — no matter how sophisticated — and a living creature. That difference is profound and important.
The writer is a member of the board of the Foundation for Biomedical Research. Her views here are her own.
Heartening to see call for change
With all the chaos and horror in our world today, with mass shootings, and mass incompetence at the Registry of Motor Vehicles, all costing human lives, it was heartwarming to see your editorial about Brown University needing to get with the program and use simulation, rather than live animals, in its emergency-medicine training program, as other medical centers in New England now do.
As Gandhi rightly stated, “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”