About 25 protesters lined the streets outside the University of Tennessee Health Science Center on Thursday, criticizing the school's use of live pigs to train medical personnel.
"We are needlessly killing animals to do this, when there are splendid alternatives," said protester Dr. Roberta Gray, a physician from North Carolina who said she has trained medical students, although her specialty is in pediatric nephrology (children's kidney problems).
Gray said the UT Health Science Center's Chattanooga campus and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, Md., are the only medical schools in the U.S. still using live pigs to train medical staff. Other schools have switched to using humanlike mannequins, which she said UT already uses in other classes here.
"There really is no defense for doing this other than 'We've always done it this way,'" she said. "It has never been shown that training on animals is superior to training on simulators."
According to Gray, the Health Science Center on Third Street uses about 300 pigs annually for its training. The pigs are anesthetized, she said, and students perform a variety of surgical procedures on them, including removing organs, before the animals are then killed.
UT Health Science Center spokeswoman Sheila Champlin defended the training. She said the university uses simulators, but when Health Science Center leaders judge the simulators are not adequate for teaching purposes, "we use what, in our opinion, are the best models for teaching."
The surgical skills training is primarily offered to medical residents who already have graduated from medical school, Champlin said.
The protest was organized by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a Washington, D.C.-based group. The group's director of academic affairs, Dr. John Pippin, also contacted the head of the UT Health Science Center in Chattanooga, Dr. David Seaberg, by email and fax, asking him to end the practice of using pigs.
The email pointed out that none of the other seven medical school campuses in Tennessee use animals for any component of medical student education and concluded, "It could not be clearer that the use of animals for medical student education is a discredited, archaic, and virtually nonexistent component of medical school curricula."
Thursday's protest was the latest in a series the Physicians Committee has conducted against the use of pigs in training.
In August, the group purchased billboards in Memphis, where the UT medical school is located, protesting the procedure. That followed an earlier billboard campaign in Chattanooga last December.
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