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Johns Hopkins Medical School will no longer use live animals to teach its med students

In a move praised by animal rights activists, the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, has announced it will end the use of live animals in its medical education, ending its distinction as one of the last medical schools in the United States and Canada to continue using animals in teaching and training.

“Given that almost all medical schools have stopped using live animals in medical student education and that the experience is not essential, the School of Medicine has decided that the use of live animals in the surgical clerkship should stop,” said school officials in a press release.

The change has been applauded by animal rights and social justice groups including the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a U.S. non-profit which has been pressuring medical schools to adopt alternatives to animal use in medical education and research.

Dr. John Pippin, director of academic affairs for PCRM, says that much progress has been made on this front, citing a poll conducted ten years ago that 30 out of 197 medical schools in the U.S. and Canada were still using live animals, whereas today the number is down to one.

The pig has been the most common animal involved in medical school training, due to its possessing an anatomical structure similar to humans’, and schools would offer courses where students could learn surgical techniques such as incision, suturing and endoscopy on anesthetized pigs. Most schools have now transitioned to alternatives such as computer simulation training which offer similar experiences for the student while avoiding the ethical issues involved in using live animals.

Dr. Pippen argues that the move by Johns Hopkins matches the current wisdom concerning both the ethics as well as the inefficiencies of using pigs in medical education. “Simply put, pigs and humans do not possess the same anatomy. Students are best trained for their careers in medicine with advanced, human-relevant technology—not with live animals,” says Dr. Pippen.

The PCRM along with other advocacy groups are now setting their sights on the remaining hold-out – University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) Chattanooga. More broadly, groups continue to focus on ending animal testing and experimentation in all scientific and product research, applying the same dual logic about the ethical as well as the practical, scientific ineffectiveness of using animals for experimentation. “Although animals are often used when ethical or practical issues have precluded the study of humans, the evolving scientific understanding of the complexity of animals and of their social and psychological needs underscores longstanding ethical concerns about their use in laboratory science,” says the PCRM, a group with over 150,000 members worldwide.

In Canada, animal rights advocates are pressing the federal government on its Cruelty Free Cosmetics Act (S-214) which is on its second reading in the Senate as of May 4. Originally proposed by Senator Carolyn Stewart Olsen from New Brunswick, the bill seeks to ban domestic animal testing in the production of cosmetics as well as prohibit the importation of cosmetics that have been tested on animals. “There’s nothing partisan about trying to prevent needless animal suffering in the name of beauty. It’s my hope that the Cruelty-Free Cosmetics Act will transcend partisan politics and receive the support it deserves,” said Sen. Olsen.

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About The Author /

Jayson is a writer, researcher and educator with a PhD in political philosophy from the University of Ottawa. His interests range from bioethics and innovations in the health sciences to governance, social justice and the history of ideas.
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