Animal Writes
9 May 2001 Issue
The Betrayal of "Man's" Best Friend

Katherine Lewis, Education Director
From: [email protected] 

"She is the medical team's first patient, strapped down to an operating table and attached to a few basic monitors to track breathing, blood pressure, and heart rate. Various common drugs are introduced into her veins. The team carefully notes how her internal organs react to the drugs. The patient wakes up in the middle of the process and cries out in pain, but the operation continues after a higher dose of anesthesia is hurriedly injected into her vein. After several hours, the team injects a drug that puts her out of her pain, once and for all. The doctor's observe as she takes her last breath, and dies." (Barnard & DeWitt, 1999)

Is this a case of medical malpractice? No. Most lawyers wouldn't even take this case given that the patient is a dog. She is one of the tens of thousands of animals who involuntarily participate in what is commonly referred to as "dog labs." These labs are most often terminal and may be performed on other animals besides just dogs. Many of the animals that are procured for these labs are purpose bred, only to be killed for an educational lesson. Even though alternatives exist, these labs are still regularly
performed in over half of the 126 U.S. medical schools and in 25 out of the 27 accredited U.S. veterinary medical schools.

Medical Schools
The case against dog labs in medical school is strongest from a pedagogical perspective simply because dogs are not human. For this reason more than perhaps any other, nine out of ten of the top medical schools as reported by U.S. News & World Report have done away with the vivisection of dogs in their medical schools. Schools such as Harvard (1), Johns Hopkins University (2), University of Pennsylvania (3), Washington University (4), Columbia (5), University of California - San Francisco (6), Yale (8), University of Washington (9), and Stanford University (10) have all stopped using dog labs in lieu of having their students observe surgeons performing surgeries on human beings.

While the top medical schools have progressed toward more appropriate and humane teaching, other medical schools still use animals to teach basic physiology and pharmacology. In those institutions, students, student organizations, and non-profit organizations have pushed for students' choice policies. At the University of California - San Diego's (UCSD) Medical School, dog labs are still part of the required curriculum for first year students. When activist and doctor, Nancy Harrison, found out that
UCSD was still using dogs (purpose-bred Dobermans), she met with students, arranged interviews with the local press, and wrote letters to the editor. She is currently collecting signatures from San Diego physicians for a petition that urges UCSD Medical School to develop alternatives to the dog labs for demonstration purposes. Thus far, over 150 physicians have signed the petition, including many UCSD faculty members (four of whom are former medical school department chairs). She also started the organization Doctors Against Dog Labs. In November, she organized a meeting with all first year medical students (MSIs) to inform them about upcoming dog vivisection labs in their physiology and pharmacology courses. As result of that meeting, over two-thirds of the MSIs responded to the information by opting out of the UCSD first year dog lab.

Veterinary Schools
While vet students must learn about animals, there are a multitude of ways to learn without the use of terminal dog labs. Tufts University School of Veterinary Medical was the first veterinary school in the United States to eliminate all terminal procedures for all species in their curriculum. In February, 2000, Tufts announced plans to eliminate their last elective course that involved the killing of dogs at the end of the surgical procedure. Dr. Gary Patronek, head of Tufts' Center for Animals and Public Policy, was quoted as saying, "This step is the culmination of a series of efforts since 1989 to provide top quality veterinary surgical training while at the same time promoting the humane treatment of animals." Instead of using dog labs, Tufts is giving students hands-on experience with their spay/neuter clinic, helping animals instead of sacrificing them.

Western University of Health Sciences (WUHS) in Pomona, California seeks to be the second veterinary school to offer a dog lab-free curriculum. WUHS is scheduled to open in 2001. It has pledged to offer a "non-consumptive curriculum with a reverence for life."

And while the Tufts and WUHS programs are innovative, they are only two of many. So students, whose only wish is to help animals, may still be confronted with terminal dog labs in other veterinary schools. As with medical schools, students have had to rely on student policies offering them an
alternative. An example of students working for one such policy is the University of Illinois Veterinary School. Several vet students pushed for a student choice policy. They met with the faculty who at first were lukewarm to the idea. But when the Chicago Tribune heard about their campaign, it ran a front page article "Vet Students Oppose U. of I. Animal Killings." Almost immediately the university suspended its terminal physiology labs and adopted a formal policy requiring that students be informed in advance of terminal laboratories. In this particular case, not only was a choice policy passed, but the students also persuaded the University to eliminate the first year terminal lab.

Clearly dog labs are not essential elements of teaching physiology or pharmacology, given that there are so many schools that do not require or use these antiquated methods. Many doctors, nurses, veterinarians, and even researchers agree that it is unnecessary. So why do these labs continue?
Indeed why do many of the lessons using animals for educational purposes continue? Simply because it has been the traditional way of teaching. But medical and veterinary medical school professors must begin to reexamine their teaching. There are two ways of teaching -- one that harms animals and ourselves and one that does not. It is up to these professors to choose, but it up to us to inform them and ask them discontinue their unnecessary betrayal "man's" best friend.

Other Organizations Against Dog Labs in Medical School

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
5100 Wisconsin Ave, NW
Suite 404
Washington, DC 20016

Doctors Against Dog Labs 

Dog Lab-Free Veterinary Medical Schools
Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine
200 Westboro Road
North Grafton, MA 01536
[email protected] 

Western University of Health Sciences

Other Organizations Against Dog Labs in Veterinary Medical School
The Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights
[email protected]

New England Anti-Vivisection Society
brochure Alternatives to Live Animal Labs
Ann Stauble - 617-523-6020 x13 or [email protected]

Go on to Trading Places
Return to 9 May 2001 Issue
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