I don't like the idea of live animals being used in medical research or training, but I believe there's a role for it in some cases. Quite frankly, I believe humans come first. I just don't believe in using animals if there are reasonable alternatives, or if there's no proof the animal research has actually benefited humans.
St. Louis Children's Hospital teaches a course on how to intubate children. The class is one of 1,403 taught at medical centers across the country as part of the American Heart Association's Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS) course. "The AHA does not endorse the use of live animals for PALS training." Instead, the AHA recommends any hands-on training "be performed on lifelike human manikins." In fact, it's very unusual for live animals to be used as part of the course.
Children's lets students, doctors and EMTs practice on the manikins. Then, they are allowed to perform the proceedure on live, anesthetized cats. The class also uses ferrets, which are smaller and comparable to preemies, according to Dr. Bo Kennedy, the director of the program at Children's. The cats are raised for research by an out of state breeder. They are kept in their own special room at the Washington University lab, have never been seriously injured and are adopted after spending several years in the program, according to Dr. Kennedy. A university spokeswoman says there's a long list of people waiting to adopt the cats.
Kennedy says there's great value in using animals for training. The living animal is a more realistic model, even though manikins are more lifelike than ever. The combination of training with both, according to Kennedy, gives participants in the program a much better learning experience.
Critics, including PETA, an aggressive animal rights group, believe it's a cruel practice that has no proof it prepares doctors better than manikins. Truthfully, there is no study that claims live animals are more effective as a teaching tool than manikins. Children's Hospital has used cats for intubation classes for more than twenty years. If there's such a great need to continue using the animals, I don't understand why Dr. Kennedy and the hospital have failed to make their case by studying the impact of their course and measuring the success rate of participants who practiced on animals compared with those who didn't.
I think many people, including me, would support a program that uses cats for intubation training if a study showed medical professionals are more likely to intubate children on the first try, and with less discomfort, if they used live animals for practice. However, if research proves it doesn't make any difference, then stop using the cats.