Quad Cities, IL/IA

Working with the community... for a healthier community.

US Medical Colleges End Animal Laboratory Practice


By Benjamin Goodin

Recently, a momentous event quietly transpired as many of us were preparing to celebrate our country’s independence. In late June, just weeks after the medical school at Johns Hopkins University made a similar decision, the University of Tennessee discontinued the use of live animal laboratories in its medical school. With the end of this final program, live animal laboratories are officially no longer required at any American or Canadian medical schools.

Live animal laboratories were a common fixture in medical schools until the last two decades, when their use and popularity declined significantly. Live animal laboratories were commonly used to acquaint medical students with surgical and internal procedures on living anatomy. While first-hand familiarity with anatomy is vital knowledge for a future surgeon or practitioner of professional medicine on humans, there have been longstanding concerns by many parties as to the ethical nature of using live animals.

Common practice dictated that laboratory subjects, typically dogs, sheep, and pigs, be anesthetized during procedures performed in animal laboratories, however, they were generally euthanized at the conclusion of the lab experience. The euthanasia was considered a kindness for the laboratory animals, which would be greatly injured during these exploratory and practice procedures.

The majority of live animal laborites were required curriculum for medical students and, until recent decades, could not be opted out of or replaced with alternative curriculum. Should a student have ethical compunctions with the requirements of the laboratory curriculum, they would often be dismissed from their program for failing to complete the animal laboratory prerequisite.

Although firsthand experience is undoubtedly the best way for any lerning to take place, the affordability and adaptability of programs used to instruct medical students were the primary concerns of many training institutions. Recent advancements in medical, materials, and computer sciences have made realistic simulation software, tools, and environments a viable and affordable alternative to instruct medical students. Instituting advanced simulation environments that can accurately model human physiology has made animal laboratories a less affordable and less accurate model for instructing internal medicine.

Pairing simulation and practice environments with clinical experiences, wherein a medical student observes and assists experienced professionals, is not only better aligned to the goals of medical learning curriculum, but may cost less, financially and ethically, over time.
Although the use of animal laboratories persists in medical research fields and in some advanced surgical training programs, there is some hope that the advanced technical and simulation models of the near future will outdate experimentation on live animals in these fields as well.

Photo credit: gurinaleksandr/iStock
Sources available upon request.