The authors take note of the rapid decline in the use of live animals in medical schools. In 1987 over 90% of schools used live animals as part of their curricula. This number plummeted to 32% of U.S. medical schools in 2001. Today, there are no U.S.-based medical programs that make use of live animals.
Many older medical graduates that employed this practice during their studies are strong proponents for the invaluable experience that comes with handling a live subject. They argue that no simulation can replicate the atmosphere, or elicit the same requirements for swift decision-making and teamwork that are used when handling a live animal. On the other hand, animal rights groups, who have fought for such changes in the curricula for several decades, are rejoicing in the results.
The authors note that all physicians will eventually have to hold a life in their hands, and with the abolishment of live animal experiments, many trainees’ first experience will be with a human. Additionally, given the fact that most patients demand the most experienced physicians, trainees are left to practice their skills on less fortunate individuals, including uninsured, undocumented, and other marginalized groups.
Thus, the question remains as to whose body will be the first to be practiced on by newly-trained physicians, and whether simulation technologies are adequate in refining these doctors’ skills.
Simkin DJ, Greene JA, Jung J, et al. (2017). The Death of Animals in Medical School. NEJM 376(8): 713-715.