If You Can’t Convince Them, Lock Them Up?

When the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (now claiming ten percent genuine M.D.s!) isn’t harassing the President of the United States or the British Prime Minister for eating the occasional cheeseburger or hot dog, it’s targeting medical research charities like the Alzheimer’s Association, the Jimmy V Foundation, and the March of Dimes — and that’s just a start. You see, these charities all conduct medical experiments on animal models. We’ll leave aside that PCRM doesn’t hesitate to report animal-derived results that support the group’s vegan propaganda, even when human observational studies find different results.

We’ve also noted that PCRM likes to sue medical researchers for alleged violations of animal welfare laws, but PCRM’s tactics in Maryland go way beyond their normal groundless civil suit. To advance their animal rights ideology, PCRM tried last year to convince Maryland prosecutors to use an apparent loophole in Maryland’s animal care statutes to criminally charge the medical schools at Johns Hopkins University and the Uniformed Services University for the Health Sciences (USU).

If you’re going to put people on trial, surely it’ll be for an alleged offense that’s serious and severe, like deliberately and maliciously mistreating dogs or cats, right? Wrong. PCRM wants the schools put on trial for employing anesthetized pigs in surgical training, when medical students learn by practicing surgical procedures on the animals. When the procedures are completed, the pigs are humanely euthanized. So it looks like PCRM doesn’t want any pigs to die for human benefit, whether on a plate or in a training program. If that sounds like a policy more likely espoused by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) than a credible “physicians’ committee,” that’s because PETA and PCRM are closely aligned fellow-travelers.

Of course, using animals in surgical training isn’t new, and there’s evidence that animal models have uses that simulations do not yet possess. PCRM has been hounding medical schools for years on the issue—a Baltimore Sun report noted that PCRM harassed Hopkins for half a decade before this stunt—while medical schools have defended the practice of live animal training. When PCRM attacked a similar program at the University of Vermont, an assistant dean there said the program “absolutely helps to save peoples’ lives.”

Experts agree. The scientific affairs senior director for the Association of American Medical Colleges told the Wisconsin State Journal: “I would, frankly, want a physician to practice [intubation, a surgical procedure] on another living organism before they do it on my child.” In response to PCRM criticism of a military combat trauma treatment training program this year, a neurosurgeon and expert in non-animal surgical simulation conceded, “Right now it’s difficult to reproduce all the parameters you have when you are in a real live animal. Any tissue you touch will bleed, there’s a reflexive heartbeat, peristalsis.”

What’s at stake? A Massachusetts hospital’s trauma section head laid the real-world issue out in stark relief:

Trauma centers are offering these [live-animal training] courses within full compliance of all laws … and with one goal only: to train people to perform life-saving procedures under conditions that are as close to real-life as possible … We see patients trying to die and it’s our job not to let them die.

And what of the future surgeons who train on pigs? A USU student told Nature:

We are a lot better prepared for what goes on in an operating room. To me, it is a real shortfall of [… the] education [of students who haven’t trained on animals]. I always feel sorry, a little bit, for knowing that that an animal gave its life for me. But at the same time, if I can take from this animal and learn how to save the lives of patients, definitely to me the benefit outweighs that sadness.

Not only do these legal stunts take time and focus away from what medical schools are trying to do—teach doctors to save lives—but they also are wasting taxpayer money by tying up prosecutors and courts with bogus claims.

When you’re an animal-rights evangelist who esteems humans and swine equally, sacrificing pigs in order to perhaps save an American soldier (USU trains physicians for the armed forces) is unacceptable. In the real world, we’d rather forgo a few hams and sides of bacon if it means an American soldier is more likely to wear his Purple Heart on his chest rather than receive three volleys and Taps at Arlington Cemetery.

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