Health

Brown University criticized for using live pigs in medical training

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has asked U.S. regulators to investigate Brown University's medical school, arguing it is violating the law by using live pigs.

Most emergency medicine residency programs in the U.S. and Canada don't use animals in training, group says

Pedestrians make their way past a building housing the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University today. A prominent physicians' group has asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to investigate the school, arguing that it is violating the law by using live pigs for training in emergency medicine. (Jennifer McDermott/Associated Press)

A prominent physicians' group has asked federal regulators in the U.S. to investigate Brown University's medical school, arguing it is violating the law by using live pigs for training in emergency medicine.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine on Tuesday asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to investigate animal use at the Warren Alpert Medical School at the Ivy League university.

Brown University and Rhode Island Hospital partner for biomedical research, teaching and clinical programs. They said in a joint statement Wednesday that the hospital abides by all federal regulations and follows strict protocols for using animals. This includes advanced trauma life support training in the emergency medicine residency program affiliated with Brown's medical school, they said.

The committee advocates for eliminating the use of live animals in any medical training and promotes the use of human-body simulators instead. Proponents of animal research argue it is crucial to scientific breakthroughs and for furthering medical science.

More than 90 per cent of emergency medicine residency programs in the United States and Canada use only human-based training methods, such as medical simulation or cadavers, according to the committee.

The non-profit represents more than 12,000 doctors.

Brown, in Providence, violated the federal Animal Welfare Act in the U.S. because alternatives to animal use exist, so using pigs for emergency medicine training is not justified or unavoidable, said Dr. John Pippin, director of academic affairs for the Physicians Committee.

Use of animals

He also contends the school's animal care and use committee does not properly oversee the use of pigs for the training, which would also violate the act.

"The purpose of all of these training programs, including at Brown, is to produce the best possible physicians in the field of emergency medicine. Everyone agrees on that," said Pippin, a cardiologist in Dallas. "What I'm claiming, and I think I can prove, is the best way to do this does not include the use of animals."

Simulators allow repetition, so if residents err when putting a chest tube in, for instance, they can do it again, Pippin said.

The models also do a better job at representing human anatomy, he said. A pig's skin is thicker and the trachea far deeper than on a person, so a resident could not cut a hole for a blocked airway on a person in the same way they would on a pig, for example, Pippin said.

There are 16 programs the committee knows of that still use live animals, and most use pigs. Pippin said he has reached out to all 16.

When Pippin first contacted Brown's medical school in the fall, he said, he was told by the residency director she wouldn't have time to consider the matter for six months. He contacted her boss and the dean of medicine, he said, but got nowhere and drafted the letter.

Pippin said the committee is not looking for the university to be penalized in any way, rather they're hoping to motivate Brown to pay attention to the information the committee provided.

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