CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — A physician’s group said Wednesday that the University of Tennessee College of Medicine at Chattanooga is breaking the law by having students use pigs in surgical training instead of working on human patient simulators like most other medical schools.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine asked District Attorney Bill Cox in Chattanooga in a letter to investigate and stop violations of Tennessee’s animal cruelty statute. The Washington, D.C.- based physicians group promotes alternatives to animal research.
“Of the 177 accredited medical schools in the United States and Canada, only three use live animals to train students in surgery clerkships,” according to the letter. It was signed by Dr. John J. Pippin, the committee’s director of academic affairs, and two Tennessee physicians, Dr. Robert Burns of Memphis and Dr. Jennifer Ellis of Clarksville.
The letter contends that using pigs in the training violates Tennessee’s animal cruelty law but Cox said the state statute excludes livestock.
“We received the letter and we reviewed the statute and the Legislature has deemed swine to be classified as livestock rather than domesticated animals'” Cox said.
Pippin said the other two medical schools that continue using live animals for surgical instruction are Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences at Bethesda, Md.
The physician group contends the program at Chattanooga has students cut open anesthesized pigs and remove body parts before the animals have to be euthanized.
Pippin said the surgery clerkships at the other two UT College of Medicine campuses — in Memphis and Knoxville — “rely exclusively on the use of non-animal training methods to teach the very same skills and procedures.”
University of Tennessee Health Science Center spokeswoman Sheila Champlin had not seen the letter and declined comment. Champlin has declined a previous request by The Associated Press to interview surgery instructors and students in the Chattanooga program.
Burns, Ellis and another physician, Dr. Zeliko Radic of Cross Plains sent a March 17 letter to the UT College of Medicine executive dean in Memphis, Dr. Steve Schwab, urging that the use of live animals in Chattanooga be stopped, saying that it’s a cruel and inferior way of teaching.
The letter said the training practice should be stopped “to safeguard your university’s reputation, provide a better educational experience for your students, and ensure that no more animal lives are wasted.”
Burns said Wednesday that he never received any response to his letter or any explanation about Memphis discontinuing use of live animals. He said there is no good reason to use live animals.
“You don’t need an animal to cut on to have students to learn how to cut on things,” he said. “The change across the country has been slow because medicine is slow to change. They say that’s the way it’s been. That’s the way I learned. We (doctors) are hard headed and we are slow to change.”
Officials at Johns Hopkins have responded to a similar complaint in the past and the Uniformed Services University in an e-mail statement Wednesday said they use a “limited number of animals in our research and education programs, however whenever it is deemed appropriate we use simulation and computer models.”
The statement said the program strictly follows animal welfare guidelines.
“We take very seriously the care and use of animals here at the university and limit their use as much as reasonably possible,” the statement said.