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Jul 12, 2013 03:37 AM EDT

Physicians Committee Sues SIU for Planning To Use Live Pigs for ER Residents Training

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Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a Washington, D.C.-based national physicians group, has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) against Southern Illinois University (SIU) for using live pigs in emergency-medicine doctors training.

The group feels that by initiating a federal investigation into the training programs, the university could be forced to review their practices. Dr. John Pippin of the group claims that 'validated non-animal training methods' such as computerized mannequins and cadavers are better alternatives to live animals for teaching programs.

"We are stunned that SIU has done what no one else has done," Pippin said. "This is completely swimming upstream. Educationally, this is a silly thing to do, and the ethics are egregious because it has no benefit, and it consumes animals."

Although a complaint has been filed against the university, the school's spokeswoman Karen Carlson said that they will continue to provide teaching procedures with the pigs at its Springfield campus for licensed doctors in their final year of a three-year emergency-medicine residency.

"We owe it to our patients to provide the best education possible to our physicians," Carlson said. "SIU School of Medicine uses many approaches, including simulation, to provide the best possible training for our emergency-medicine residents. The residents learn some complex, lifesaving procedures using real tissues so that the first time they perform the procedures it is not on human patients."

Pippin said that SIU planned to use three pigs per year for the next three years. The pigs to be used in the university's training programs will be under anesthesia during the procedures and then euthanized later. The animals would be then disposed off with an overdose of anesthesia.

 "SIU uses multiple methods of training to provide the best-possible preparation for residents so that they can save lives," Carlson said. "The animals are treated humanely and with respect at all times."

An ongoing survey by the group has showed that 77 of 90 emergency-medicine training programs, or 85 percent, don't utilize animals to teach their residents such as ER residencies at John Stroger Hospital of Cook County, the University of Chicago and University of Illinois College of Medicine campuses in Chicago and Peoria.

Pippin said that two months ago, the group found out about SIU's plans to use pigs in teaching ER residents about procedures like cricothyroidotomy, tube thoracostomy and thoracotomy, and lateral canthotomy.

The group were surprised to learn that SIU's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee did not object to use pigs in the training programs.

Meanwhile, the USDA will determine whether SIU's ER residency director, Dr. Christopher McDowell, carefully considered alternative procedures before opting to go ahead with live animals. If McDowell is found guilty, the department can force the university to review its practices once again.

This is not the first time a university is being targeted for using  live animals in its curriculum. The University of Colorado-Boulder (CU) is currently reviewing its methods of using live animals in undergraduate classroom science experiments after animal rights group- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) filed a complaint against the university last fall.

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