A Marine ties a tourniquet on an advanced simulator during a combat training exercise at Camp Johnson, N.C. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has long pressed for the military to use such simulators in place of live animals in medical instruction and survival training. (Cpl. Bryce J. Burton/Marine Corps)
Animal-rights advocates are asking Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to end the use of live animals in military medical training.
Citing three studies presented at the Military Health System Research Symposium in August that concluded human simulators are as good or better for teaching trauma skills and field-stress management as live animals, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said the Defense Department should “adhere to its own regulations” and choose simulators over goats, pigs and sheep.
“Regulations require the DoD to use nonanimal training methods whenever available — and clearly they are available,” wrote Justin Goodman, PETA’s director of laboratory investigations, to Hagel.
PETA has long pressed for the military to stop using live animals in medical instruction and survival training.
Its efforts have yielded some success: In 2011, the Army stopped using vervet monkeys in its nerve-agent research; the Coast Guard earlier this year abandoned the use of live animals in training; and in November last year, the Army issued a directive that limited the use of live animals when there are alternatives.
Military officials contend, however, that the practice has contributed to the historically high rates of survival of wounded troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In August, retired Army Col. (Dr.) Donald Jenkins asked the Defense Health Board to consider recommending that live-tissue training remain in the DoD medical curriculum.
Speaking on recent lessons learned from the battlefield, Jenkins and the board’s trauma and injury subcommittee, said DoD should continue funding research to compare cost and efficacy of live-tissue training programs compared with simulation but added that animal training has value.
“Live-tissue training has an important tailored role in trauma training for lifesaving interventions on the battlefield. ... It should be combined with high-fidelity simulation and integrated operational medical training across the force,” Jenkins said.
DoD policy states that alternatives to using live animals in training should be “considered and used whenever possible to obtain objectives of research, development, training and education or training if such alternative methods produce scientifically or educationally valid or equivalent results.”
The studies presented at the military-research symposium in August — two of which were commissioned by the Defense Department to compare simulation results with live-tissue training — found that training with advanced simulators such as human-worn trainers called “cut suits” and life-like mannequins was as proficient or in some cases, more proficient, than using animals.
“These studies confirm what we’ve been saying for years, which is that medical simulators that mimic human anatomy and physiology teach lifesaving battle skills as well as or better than shooting, stabbing and blowing up goats and other animals,” Goodman said.
A Defense Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the studies said much of the information presented at the conference was based on preliminary data and “should not be taken out of context.”
Final results are expected over the next several months, the official said.
In 1983, then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger halted a plan to open a lab at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences that would have allowed medical students and researchers to study and train on anesthetized dogs shot with military weapons.
Goodman said Hagel could make similar sweeping changes with the stroke of a pen.
“The DoD has spent $20 million on studies that have come to the same conclusion [that simulators work just as well], and they can’t ignore the evidence any longer,” he said.
According to PETA, about 10,000 animals were used by military personnel and defense contractors in training in 2009 — the last year for which it has numbers.
DoD spokeswoman Jennifer Elzea acknowledged that the department had received the PETA letter and “will respond directly within an appropriate timeframe.”