UT Chattanooga practice surgery on pigs draws protest billboards

A national physicians group has put up two billboards near Interstate 24 to protest the use of live pigs in training for surgery at the University of Tennessee College of Medicine at Chattanooga, reports the Times-Free Press.

One pictures a large, bloody scalpel and says, “WARNING,” . “You are entering UT’s Substandard Medical Training Zone!” The other congratulates drivers for “surviving” the “substandard medical training zone.”

The college of medicine here is one of just three medical schools out of 188 polled in the U.S. and Canada that still allow students to practice on animals, according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a Washington, D.C.-based group that represents more than 12,000 physicians and promotes alternatives to animal research, among other causes.

…”It is disgraceful and inappropriate. It shows not only a lack of sympathy for the animals, it shows a lack of willingness to adopt current educational standards,” said Dr. John J. Pippin, the committee’s director of academic affairs.

Most medical schools – including the other campuses of the University of Tennessee – have students practice surgery exclusively on cadavers or high-tech simulators, the organization said. Most universities made the switch not because of animal cruelty concerns, but because training on animals is no longer considered best practice for human procedures, Pippin said.

UTCOMC’s self-proclaimed “state-of-the-art” Clinical Skills and Simulation Center should make the training on animals unnecessary, the committee said. But the training on pigs continues. The practice involves making incisions into the anesthetized pigs and practicing procedures such as inserting endoscopes and removing parts of organs. Once the sessions are ended, the pigs are euthanized.

The organization said about 300 pigs are euthanized annually in UTCOMC’s program.

Sheila Champlin, spokeswoman for the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, said the program is “designed to develop life-saving skills.”

She said the university uses simulators in training, and that in most cases “they are adequate for teaching purposes.”

“However, when they are not, we use what, in our opinion, are the best models for teaching,” Champlin said.

Update note: Here’s Charlie Daniel’s take: