USA Today: Stop maiming animals to train medics: Column

February 9, 2016
Opinion: Op-Eds 

As military veterans, we both understand the critical role medics play on the battlefield. However, the education that these medics receive today is outdated, inhumane and in serious need of modernization.

At a briefing scheduled Wednesday on Capitol Hill, we will join former military doctors to explain how our service members practice to treat injured soldiers by using live pigs, goats, and dogs who have been shot, stabbed and dismembered in crude simulations of battlefield injuries. In light of new artificial simulators that mimic injured soldiers, this outdated practice — also referred to aslive tissue training — makes little scientific, economic or ethical sense.

First, the vast differences in the anatomy and physiology of humans and other animals make animals poor surrogates for humans. Artificial simulators, in contrast, are able to better replicate human injuries and prepare medics. Exciting new studies conducted by the Department of Defense, Canadian Armed Forces, Israel Defense Forces and others illustrate that high-tech human simulators teach life-saving battlefield medicine as well as, and often better than, invasive procedures on intentionally-injured live animals.

Second, replacing live animals with artificial simulators also benefits the taxpayers. Simulators are reusable and do not require veterinary services or expansive support facilities. Comparisons between the prices of various combat trauma training courses often reveal that those employing simulators are less costly. Bringing an end to the brutal killing of animals is a common-sense way to save taxpayer dollars.

Finally, maiming animals in these medical courses is inhumane and unethical. Theoverwhelming majority of our NATO allies do not use any animals for this training and virtually all civilian trauma training programs in the U.S. have switched to simulation methods. The U.S. military should follow these examples.

At our event on Capitol Hill, one company will demonstrate how artificial simulators can replace animals in combat trauma training. The presentation will feature a commercially-available, full-size, computerized soldier simulator that speaks, bleeds, responds to medical treatment and dies. This will be followed by a demonstration of a surgical "cut suit" vest made of realistic skin and organs that mimic traumatic, life-threatening injuries. The suit can be worn by an actor and allows students to practice treatment.

The existence of more lifelike and less costly simulators clearly suggests the need and ability to transition away from live tissue training. The Department of Defensehas taken some steps to strengthen protections for animals. This is welcome progress, but more needs to be done.

We believe it is time that the Pentagon fully modernizes military medical training to improve troop preparedness, reduce animal suffering and conserve resources needed to keep our service members and country safe.