Einstein Medical Center will stop intubating cats

In a move certain to cheer animal lovers and rile those in favor of using live subjects, a Philadelphia medical center confirmed it has stopped using kittens as part of a training program to teach endotracheal intubation of infants.

The decision by Einstein Medical Center comes three months after a physician group filed a complaint against the institution.

Endotracheal intubation is a procedure that involves inserting a plastic tube down the windpipe to facilitate breathing.


Douglas McGee, the chief academic officer at Einstein Medical Center, informed the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine it was discontinuing the use of animals to teach endotracheal intubation, according to a letter dated Aug. 3 obtained by MedCity News. McGee said:

“Our organization will continue to meet our education goals and maintain high training standards using other instructional strategies when teaching this procedure.”

The physician group filed a complaint against Einstein with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Eastern Region Animal Care office in North Carolina, accusing it of violating the Animal Welfare Act. The group had argued that 95 percent of pediatrics residency programs use simulators. It said using live animals risks bruising or scarring the trachea and they could die in the process.

Albert Einstein Medical Center has said no animals were harmed in this process and that it was one component of a broader training program that included simulators.

But the move is likely to displease those who support using animals with which to practice the procedure. One reader calling himself “Jon” who commented on my earlier story on this issue made a pretty reasonable argument. “Jon” said:

“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.”