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Army limits use of animals in medical training

Nov. 13, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
In this file photo a medical soldier practices suturing on synthetic tissue in preparation for an eventual deployment to Afghanistan. A new Army policy restricts the use of live animals when training medics to care for trauma patients.
In this file photo a medical soldier practices suturing on synthetic tissue in preparation for an eventual deployment to Afghanistan. A new Army policy restricts the use of live animals when training medics to care for trauma patients. (Capt. Michael Greenberger/ Army)
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A new Army policy restricting the use of live animals when training medics to care for trauma patients has critics hopeful that the military is taking one more step toward eliminating the controversial practice.

The directive restricts who can take part in medical training using live animals, and limits using animals to instances when there are no adequate alternatives.

The new policy is a “huge development,” said Justin Goodman, director of the laboratory investigations department at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “This is indicative of the fact they’re taking this issue seriously,” he said.

In an All-Army Activities message, the Army cited the use of live animals in pre-deployment trauma training as “a major contributor to dramatically increased survival rates for wounded soldiers” in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The message also “reflects the Army’s continued commitment to the highest quality of medical training and promulgates the refinement, reduction, and, when appropriate, the replacement” of live animals in training, Jennifer Elzea, a Defense Department spokeswoman, wrote in an email to Army Times.

The department is “unwavering in our commitment to the humane care and use of animals,” she said, and all activities adhere strictly to federal statutes and DoD directives, regulations and policies.

Animals can be used “only when alternatives such as mannequins, moulaged actors, cadavers or medical simulation technologies are not adequate,” the message states.

“From our perspective, that’s a great thing, and we continue to push for a complete stop [in live-tissue training], but this is a great start,” Goodman said. “About 10,000 animals a year until now have been shot, stabbed, blown up, mutilated in military training courses.” The military typically uses pigs, goats and sheep.

“There’s no ethical or scientific justification to continue to use animals,” he said, especially now when there are so many realistic simulators and high-tech dummies available. “There are other more effective ways and more humane ways to train military personnel.”

The military closely monitors the numbers and types of animals used in training, Elzea said, and work is underway to reduce or replace the use of animals in medical education and training.

“However, until there are validated alternatives, the experience and confidence gained by the use of the live animal model in teaching lifesaving procedures cannot be substituted by other training methods,” she said. “Combat medic training is vital because the medic is the first responder who provides immediate care at the point of wounding.”

A ban proposed

PETA’s efforts may soon get a boost from Congress. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., introduced corresponding bills that would prohibit the use of live animals in “live combat trauma injury and chemical and biological training” after 2016, according to information from Johnson’s office.

The Battlefield Excellence through Superior Training Practices Act “provides a framework for the Department of Defense to phase out its use of animal-based training in favor of superior, human-based simulator technologies that have made great strides in the last decade,” Johnson said in a statement. “Using pigs and goats in live battlefield training is not the best option for our troops and is inhumane treatment of animals.”

Last year, PETA published a study showing that nearly 80 percent of NATO countries don’t use animals in their training, he said.

Using animals “just wasn’t very good training,” Dr. Tom Poulton, a professor and pediatric anesthesiologist at Texas Tech University in El Paso and a former Navy lieutenant commander.

“You can blow up a pig or goat or dog, but it’s still not the same. They’re mammals, their hearts pump the same way, the circulatory system is similar, but … the anatomy is different,” he said. “You don’t want to train people to be knowledgeable in goat anatomy.”

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