Kitten intubation by medical center sparks complaint from physicians’ group

A Philadelphia medical center has incurred the wrath of a physicians’ group and no doubt some animal lovers over its use of kittens to teach pediatric medicine residents intubation.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has filed a complaint against Albert Einstein Medical Center with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Eastern Region Animal Care office in North Carolina. It accuses the medical center of violating the Animal Welfare Act.

In a statement, the physicians’ group said about 95 percent of pediatrics residency programs use simulators to teach endotracheal intubation, a procedure that involves inserting a plastic tube down the windpipe to facilitate breathing. It also pointed out that Albert Einstein is the only institution in Pennsylvania to use live animals to practice the procedure.

The group said animals could suffer tracheal bruising, bleeding, scarring, airway swelling and severe pain, and risk dying in the process.


Dr. Samuel L. Jacobs is a physician in the Philadelphia public health system who cosigned the federal complaint. In a statement he said: “A newborn baby’s anatomy is different from a cat’s, and residents at Albert Einstein can get a better education using human patient simulators.”

In an emailed statement, Albert Einstein Medical Center said it uses the animals to supplement its training on plastic models and simulators. It added that animals are not harmed and are supervised by a committee of physicians, veterinarians and lay people. It also facilitates their adoption as pets.

“Einstein cares for many critically ill newborns and believes the teaching of safe airway management skills is enhanced by the use of additional training methods to care for premature neonates — some weighing as little as a single pound.”