Protecting Animals in Medical Schools

An interesting development has been the abandonment of live animals to train surgical skills (DJ Simkin et al. NEJM 2017; 376: 713-15).  Last year, the last two medical schools, who used live (anesthetized) animals, dropped this part of a core curriculum for training in surgery.

While the use of animals for medical education had “been used in medical education for millennia, the practice has now been abolished from the standard curriculum of every U.S. medical school.”  While some alternative methods for training, like more sophisticated simulation, had been developed, clearly the change was driven by groups like “The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine” (8% of whose members are physicians).

While the goal of humane care for animals is laudable, it is worthwhile to contemplate that now “the brunt of the risks associated with learning tends to be borne by patients who are uninsured, undocumented, members of minority groups or otherwise marginalized.”

My take (borrowed from authors): “The underlying moral question –On whose bodies will clinical medicine first be practiced?–continues to require close attention.”

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