The University has recently come under fire from a national animal rights organization for teaching methods that are far from progressive. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed a complaint against the University of Michigan Health Services for using cats and pigs to help train prospective nurses in its Survival Flight course. Despite the existence of more humane options for training nursing students, the University is continuing to perform simulations with animals. Regardless of the legality of the use of animals, UMHS should still consider other, more humane methods of training. UMHS should use medical simulators as the preferred method of training.
PETA filed a complaint with the United States Department of Agriculture last week, urging it to investigate UHMS’s use of cats and pigs to practice intubation and other procedures. PETA alleges that the use of cats and pigs for training purposes in the Survival Flight course breaches the Animal Welfare Act of 1966, as reported by the Daily on Monday. UMHS defended the training method and stated that it had increased the use of human patient simulators and decreased the use of animals in its training courses. UMHS also said that the procedures were similar to ones performed by veterinarians when treating animals in the clinic and that most of the cats used were adopted afterward.
The legality of UHMS’s use of cats and pigs is still up for debate. But regardless of the USDA’s investigation, the University should reevaluate teaching methods that involve the use of animals. Though we want our doctors and nurses to be as well trained as possible, training should also be humane. Since other options exist, UMHS shouldn’t use pigs and cats as a default training method.
One technique that can likely replace the use of animals is the use of human patient simulators. A simulator has the advantage of being able to replicate the anatomy of a human body far more accurately than a cat or pig. These simulators allow students to get thorough and accurate training, while also approaching their education in a humane way. UMHS should use its human simulator, called the TraumaMan System, to help train nurses. And if the TraumaMan system isn’t appropriate for the purposes of the Survival Flight course, UMHS should invest in research to develop a better simulator.
This is not the first time that the University has been investigated for unethical uses of animals in courses. In 2009, PETA filed a complaint saying that a different UMHS course was using dogs to practice procedures to treat trauma injuries. That filing led to weeks of scandal and debate. These complaints and lawsuits shouldn’t be part of the culture at the University. They are costly, time consuming and cast a negative light on otherwise positive studies and training. But mostly, they are unnecessary because other options are available.
UMHS courses should continue their tradition of excellence. But the future of medical training doesn’t lie with the use of animals. Rather, it will be based in advanced human patient simulation technology. That is where UMHS should direct its resources.