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.”
They do this because students/resident find it more "exciting" to work on living "models." Believe me, they'd do it on Russian or African peasants if it were culturally acceptable, such as when the Nazis came to power in Germany. When I went to med school ~1990, there were dog labs where students could do the surgical exercise of the day, and then do whatever they wanted after the planned exercise. Dog labs were popular. There were even voluntary, extra-curricular animal labs that had plenty of students attending.
One of the wonders of technology is that it can facilitate ethical and effective training. There's no benefit to practicing on animals, and it shows very poor boundaries to justify such cruel behavior when not necessary. I am horrified that there is a doctor arguing that the government shouldn't be allowed to have restrictions on animal cruelty- you took ethics, right? This isn't a new issue, nor one free of very dangerous possibilities. When your humanity has been usurped by political ideology, it's probably time to retire...
No! Not in this country. We don't rationalize cruelty. What does this teach our children? Adolph Hitler would have said, better to test it on the Jews than our Noble Arians." No!
Point #1: Albert Einstein Medical Center trains it residents using simulators, then furthers their training using sedated kittens, and only then further trains their residents using sick infants. I looks to me like AEMC pediatric residents are getting better training than residents anywhere else. Since an improperly performed intubation can cause tracheal bruising, bleeding, scarring, airway swelling and severe pain, and risk dying in the process, shouldn't we prefer that the first living being to be exposed to this risk be a kitten rather than a sick infant? Point #2: Where exactly in the Constitution do we find a power in Congress to enact an Animal Welfare Act that is so broad as to interfere with the right of AEMC to train its doctors as it sees fit? Although the State of Pennsylvania certainly has that power, the federal government's power is supposed to be limited.
Obviously simulator technology is advanced enough if the top schools find it sufficient to train their students. The value of repeated opportunities to practice technique vs. causing harm and less opportunity due to how many cats can you subject to the procedure, undoubtedly means simulation is superior. Einstein needs to move into the 21st century of medical education, and out of animal abuse.
I watched with optimism, over the past 20 yrs, the growth and development of simulator technology. There was hope that this technology would eliminate animal use while improving teaching and training; however, as a Dean of Allied Health, I knew full well that it would be a difficult task to get faculty to change their presentation methods from the way they were taught. Simulator training allows for endless opportunities to practice without fear of harm. That's far more acceptable (and real) than subjecting an animal to harm and abuse, esp. since the anatomy is very different. Einstein needs to move forward and join the other 95% of teaching hospitals in this century.
Clearly the federal complaint and the above comment are not from emergency medicine physicians. Being an EM doctor and having done a live tissue airway simulator (not at Einstein and not cats) I can say that it was invaluable part of my training. While an animal's airway is not the same as a human's it was close enough. When it came time for me to actually intubate several infants during my residency I was much more comfortable with the procedure. Anyone who says that a plastic mannequin can teach airway skills just as well as a live tissue model hasn't done too many intubations- it's not the same at all. When it comes down to it- would you rather me practice on a sedated cat or your sick 1 month old child?
The #1 ranked neonatal hospital in America is right there in Phila, and Children's Hospital of Philadelphia does not use any animals to train its pediatricians. Only two of the top 50 US neonatal hospitals use animals to teach intubation. Opinions are free, but facts should be verifiable. AEMC is simply behind the educational and ethical curve. Maybe that has something to do with why it is NOT ranked in the top 50.