A petition opposing the use of animals in the University of Michigan Health System’s Survival Flight Course was delivered to University President Mary Sue Coleman’s office last Friday by two University students — one dressed in a human-sized cat costume — and a member of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
The petition currently has around 100,000 signatures and addresses the use of cats and pigs in the Survival Flight Course — an organization that prepares teams of flight nurses to perform medical procedures quickly and under pressure in a medical emergency.
The petition was not delivered directly to Coleman because she was not present to receive it, according to University Spokeswoman Kelly Cunningham.
LSA junior Akshay Verma, a member of the campus organization Michigan Animal Rights Society, was one of the students who brought the petition last week. Verma said he got involved with the petition because he is upset with the lack of action within University administration in addressing the use of animals for science.
He added that the petition has seen support from PETA and the Michigan Student Assembly — which passed a resolution discouraging the Survival Flight Course from using animals in their endeavors.
Justin Goodman, associate director of laboratory investigations at PETA, said the group could utilize human simulators rather than animals, which many other universities and facilities in the country use to train medical professionals in the same skills.
“Almost every facility in the country offering this type of training uses simulators instead of animals,” Goodman said. “The University of Michigan is swimming against the tide.”
Goodman also argued that the simulators are a better option for training nurses due to their resemblance to the human body.
“Simulators allow trainees like nurses to practice on accurate anatomy and physiology, which pigs and cats don’t allow them to do,” Goodman said.
Another benefit of using simulators is that the trainees are able to repeat procedures multiple times, which is not feasible with laboratory animals, Goodman said. Additionally he said that simulators have been used in other courses and programs within the University’s Medical School.
“Already, in other courses at the University of Michigan that are for doctors and nurses, they are using simulators to teach the exact same skills without any additional training on animals,” he said.
Goodman said that while people may “make a compelling scientific argument for using animals” for programs like Survival Flight, the question of ethics is undisputable.
“In this case, science, ethics, and common sense are all weighing against the (University) and we’re just asking them to modernize their curriculum and do what other people have already decided is a better way to do things instead of continuing this archaic practice,” Goodman said
However, Mark Lowell, medical director of Survival Flight training and associate professor of emergency medicine, said the simulators lack the technological advancements that are needed to be fully utilized as an alternative to animals.
“I’d love to be able to only use simulators, but unfortunately they’re not there yet,” Lowell said. “And they can’t replicate what my nurses need to know.”
The use of animals as part of the training process, which utilizes simulators for the majority of the course, ensures that the nurses will perform their life-saving procedures correctly, he said.
“What our survival flight crews do is so much more advanced than nearly every other flight program in the country,” Lowell said.