by Christie Lagally
The University of Washington (UW) is an integral part of our Seattle community as the professional home of researchers and medical doctors. Since we support them with donations and federal funds, their actions reflect upon our community, particularly with regard to the use of animals.
Unfortunately, recent issues have highlighted incongruities between UW’s stated goals to use animals responsibly and decisions made by certain medical instructors and the UW Regents.
In October, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine organized a physician-led protest to bring awareness to UW’s paramedic training program, which uses 31 pigs each year to teach paramedics, paramedic students and Airlift flight nurses how to manage obstructed airways in trauma patients. The pigs are anesthetized, used for training and then euthanized.
This is an unnecessary use of animals, and the UW has a human-body simulator, known as the SimMan 3G, which is already used to teach medical students, graduate physicians and trauma physicians this procedure (and many other procedures) without the use of animals.
Dr. John Pippin, the Physicians Committee director of academic affairs, explains that of the 11 surveyed paramedic training programs in the Pacific Northwest, 10 use human simulators instead of live animals, with UW being the holdout.
Additionally, using pigs constitutes a sub-standard educational method. Students trained with human simulators benefit from learning this skill on a replicated human rather than pig anatomy, and a human simulator can be used repetitively to optimize training, so students are not limited to practicing a few times on pigs.
“It’s the decision of the instructor,” UW Medicine spokesperson Tina Mankowski stated, but Pippin explained that the decision is simply wrong and paramedic students are missing out on human-relevant training.
(To encourage UW’s transition to human-centered, animal-friendly training, visit the Physicians Committee website at www.pcrm.org.)
Broadening animal research
An entrenched approach to animal use appears to be affecting other UW decisions, as well. In 2013, the UW Board of Regents approved a new Animal Research and Care Facility (ARCF) to centralize animal labs on campus. According to David Anderson, executive director of Health Science Administration, UW intends to grow its primate-research capacity with the new ARCF.
Our community was left out of decisions about the ARCF and its impact on animals, according to Amanda Schemkes, director of the group Don’t Expand UW Primate Testing.
Schemkes has sued the UW, claiming failure to comply with Washington’s Open Public Meetings Act. The act states that public commissions and boards (such as the UW Regents) “exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business” and that actions and deliberations be conducted openly.
Yet, documents obtained by Schemkes show that the UW Regents allegedly discussed and agreed to support the ARCF at a dinner meeting before the public meeting. Don’t Expand UW Primate Testing’s lawsuit seeks the Regents’ decision to build the ARCF to be voided and to allow time for the community and the Regents to educate themselves about the realities of primate testing.
Animals in research labs suffer considerably as a result of being used as a tool rather than treated as a soul. Many endure lethal exposure to toxic chemicals or have mechanical devices implanted in eyes and brains. Some primates live in small, solitary cages most of their lives.
In the last decade, UW has received multiple USDA citations and fines for failure to care for animals and for performing unauthorized surgeries.
‘Slowing medical progress’
There is a growing voice in the medical community that animal testing is inherently flawed and slows medical progress by placing a hyper-focus on animal use, instead of developing human-relevant alternatives such as cell cultures for toxicity testing and organ-on-a-chip technology for systems-level biology tests.
Also, animal experiments are shown to be unreliable, according to John J. Pippins’ 2013 “Animals Research in Medical Sciences,” since up to 96 percent of drugs successfully tested in animals fail in human clinical trials, while dangerous drugs sometimes gain FDA approval. Furthermore, some chronic diseases have no cures or effective treatments despite decades of animal experiments.
Yet, in 2014, UW received $423 million in taxpayer funds through the National Institutes of Health, much of which supports animal testing. A diversion away from research on animals could mean a loss of these funds, and “the animal research portfolio accounts for over 35 percent of research activity,” according to UW documents.
Although Anderson assures that all animal testing is reviewed for necessity, the UW’s plans to increase primate testing — rather than to set institutional goals to intentionally reduce animal testing overall — is not an ethical use of taxpayer funds. So, while there may be little monetary motivation to reduce animal testing, there is certainly a moral and scientific prerogative, since increasing primate testing inherently diverts funds from human-relevant research methods and subverts the rights of animals to be free from cruelty and mutilation.
The goal of using and seeking alternatives to animal use is not to block progress but to advance scientific discovery and training that will directly apply to human physiology. Furthermore, human progress is not just evaluated by our advancements in medical science but is also measured by our intentional evolution of the ethical treatment of animals.
CHRISTIE LAGALLY is a writer and the editor of Living Humane (livinghumane.com), a news site about humane-conscious lifestyles.