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Medical school use of live pigs criticized

The Baltimore Sun

Taking aim at one of the last bastions of live-animal training for medical students, a physicians’ group that champions animal rights renewed its call Wednesday for Johns Hopkins University to stop using live pigs to teach operating-room techniques.

Calling the practice inhumane and unnecessary, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine noted that Hopkins is one of just two top-tier medical schools still convening live-animal labs.

“The ethical argument is that you should not use sentient creatures to our purposes unnecessarily,” said Dr. John J. Pippin, a Dallas cardiologist affiliated with group. “The reasons to use live animals, whatever they were, are no longer valid.”

With Case Western University’s decision to hold its last live-pig labs this semester, Hopkins will be the lone holdout among medical schools in U.S. News & World Report’s annual Top 20 ranking.

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Overall, just 10 of the nation’s 126 M.D.-granting medical schools use live animals during surgical rotations, according to the physicians’ group. A larger number of teaching hospitals use animals to train postgraduate surgical residents, and animals are widely used to test medical devices and surgical techniques.

Hopkins said it had no plans to end the use of live pigs, despite a flood of e-mails from animal rights activists and an editorial in the undergraduate student newspaper.

“I can’t change their feelings, but we’d want them to understand that we really do think it’s important in surgical training,” said Dr. Julie Freischlag, director of surgery at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

She said pigs give students the feel of live tissue -- and help students decide whether they have the interest and dexterity to become surgeons.

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