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Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter

From 4 January 2002 Issue

Paging Dr. Jeffrey Dahmer
By Bill Maher

This op-ed piece ran in the Colorado Daily in Boulder on Friday 1 September 2000 and elsewhere since.  Of the 126 U.S. medical schools, the University of Colorado medical school nearby in Denver is one of only 43 that still conducts live animal laboratories while teaching future physicians.

Cutting up and killing perfectly healthy dogs sounds more like a training program for serial killers than for medical doctors.  Yet, strange as it sounds, many U.S. medical students are being taught to do just that, including at this school.  Meanwhile, some aspiring serial killers are doing much the same thing elsewhere.  Of course, the latter may eventually make
occasional house calls.

Why do medical students cut up healthy dogs, pigs, rabbits, or cats?  Because some administrators claim no student can get a proper medical education without slicing open a live animal—albeit anesthetized, more or less—at least once.  At first, this probably strikes you as making as much sense as inflatable dartboards.  But, you reflect, "Medicine is complicated and contains many long words I cannot pronounce.  Maybe cutting up a perfectly good dog is absolutely essential to a medical education."

Not true.  Even without wearing a white coat or hanging a cold stethoscope around your neck, you know more than you realize about medicine.  Really, the dog lab idea is as stupid as it sounds!  In fact, more than 80 of the 126 U.S. medical schools—among them Yale, Columbia, and Stanford—no longer have live animal labs.  Harvard Medical School, for instance—not usually considered a fly-by-night quack factory—brings scrub-garbed students into operating rooms to observe life-saving surgery first hand.  An extraordinary concept!  Something in the Boston water supply must be responsible for such an epidemic of common sense.

To gain a more complete perspective on this controversy, let's time travel.  About 2,400 years ago, a fellow named Hippocrates gathered some eager medical students about himself on the small Greek island of Cos, and, for the first time in history, set before them the first principle of medicine, "Primum non nocere" which means, "First do no harm."

His students looked befuddled and scratched their heads, because that's Latin and they were all speaking Greek.  But after Hippocrates explained what it meant, they all nodded approval. "First, do no harm," they thought.  "What a splendid idea.  Why didn't I think of that?"

Then one toga-clad dunce in the back of the room asked, "Can we cut up a perfectly healthy dog for no good reason?"

"No," said a frustrated Hippocrates. "What part of `First do no harm' did you not understand?  Write it on the chalkboard 500 times after class!"

And so was born the famous Hippocratic Oath.  But let's face it, anyone who thinks cutting open perfectly healthy dogs is a good approach to doing "no harm" shouldn't be allowed near any sharp objects, let alone scalpels.

If your appendix needed removal, would you be thinking as you writhed in pain, "Dear God in Heaven, whatever happens, make sure my surgeon cut open a perfectly healthy dog for no good reason at some point."  Of course you wouldn't.  It's just plain stupid.  And not just because God spelled backwards is dog, and you still aren't convinced it's a coincidence.

Perhaps we should make it easier for patients to evaluate their physicians and put the information right on those waiting-room-displayed diplomas.  Then patients would know if they got a regular doctor or a doctor who cut up a perfectly healthy dog for no good reason.

Heck, they can issue two different kinds of degrees. The familiar M.D., and the new M.D.W.C.U.A.P.H.D.F.N.G.R., of course standing for, "Medical Doctor Who Cut Up A Perfectly Healthy Dog For No Good Reason."  Then patients who wanted one could say, "Give me an M.D.W.C.U.A.P.H.D.F.N.G.R.  That's who I want holding a knife in a room where I'm unconscious."

Of course, killing animals is no laughing matter.  It's time that all medical schools followed the examples of those that have truly embraced Hippocratic principles in eliminating live animal labs from their medical education curricula.

It may be a while before we also eliminate serial killers.  But let's hope that we can soon look forward to a world in which people who cut up perfectly healthy dogs for no good reason eventually wind up in hospitals, in rooms with rubber—not diplomas—on the walls.

Los Angeles-based comedian and animal advocate Bill Maher, host of ABC-TV's Politically Incorrect, has been working with the Washington, D.C.-based Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, founded in 1985, to eliminate remaining live animal labs from U.S. medical schools.

Staff: [email protected]  (Lisa Marie)

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