Norfolk, VA (RPRN) 04/16/2009–A new debate over torture has emerged in the U.S. It involves the military’s use of live animals to teach medics how to treat severe battlefield injuries. While the Department of Defense (DoD) claims that “no alternative is available,” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) calls this training “animal torture.”
The group has demonstrated that superior alternatives to the use of animals are available and that the DoD is violating its own animal welfare regulation, which states, “Alternative methods to the use of animals must be considered and used if such alternatives produce scientifically valid or equivalent results to attain the research, education, training, and testing objectives.”
“Live pigs are stabbed, shot and burned; live goats have their limbs broken with bolt cutters and cut off with gardening shears; and live monkeys are poisoned with harmful chemicals,” says PETA researcher Shalin Gala. “These outdated exercises put soldiers at risk.” PETA has written to 17 military bases across the country calling for investigations into their use of live animals in trauma-training exercises.
PETA proposes that the DoD use rotations in civilian trauma hospitals and human patient simulators instead of harming live animals in trauma skills exercises. These humane teaching methodsâ€”including the military’s own Combat Trauma Patient Simulator, high-tech interactive computer simulations, and the TraumaMan system that has been approved by the American College of Surgeons, among othersâ€”are more effective than methods that use animals. The Air Force Expeditionary Medical Skills Institute’s Center for Sustainment of Trauma and Readiness Skills and the Naval Trauma Training Center in Los Angeles have both confirmed that they do not use any animals for trauma-training exercises, proving that the use of animals is not necessary for medical training.
Gala points to several medical organizations and expertsâ€”including the American Medical Student Association, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, Harvard Medical School’s Dr. John Pawlowski, and trauma surgeon and medical general counsel for the Iraq War Veterans Organization Dr. Michael Murphyâ€”who have written letters in support of PETA’s request to replace the use of live animals with alternative methods.
Dr. Murphy, who is an associate professor of surgery at the Indiana University School of Medicine and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom (2004 and 2007), has stated, “No animal model can adequately duplicate the anatomy and physiology of injuries inflicted upon the human body in war.”
More recently, the DoD has come under fire from PETA and other animal advocacy organizations for blast experiments in which live pigs are dressed in body armor and strapped inside Humvee simulators before the simulators are blown up. This is supposedly done to test how effective human body armor is in preventing traumatic brain injuries. PETA points out that these tests are not only cruel but also a waste of resourcesâ€”particularly considering the recent scandals involving body armor that the military has been forced to confront. Last year, the Army’s inspector general found that the Pentagon had failed to ensure that $3 billion in body armor met required standards of effectiveness. In January, the inspector general revealed that at least 16,000 sets of body armor hadn’t even been tested to make sure that they were bulletproof, and they had to be returned. Since the start of the Iraq war in 2003, the military has received heavy criticism for failing to provide all soldiers with armor.
“The military apparently can’t afford to issue properly manufactured body armor to every soldier who risks his or her life,” says Gala, “but it squanders time and money killing animals in useless experiments.”
In an April 8 letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Gala asked the DoD to use alternatives to animal tests such as the human simulator manikins that are used in head trauma research at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. Secretary Gates has not yet responded.