In hospital nursery wards, premature newborns often need to be intubated in order to stabilize their airways. To teach pediatrics residents to perform the procedure, medical supply companies provide endotracheal intubation simulators that match newborn anatomy. But some medical centers do not use humanlike simulators. Instead, they use kittens, adult cats, and ferrets, despite the anatomical differences between these animals and human babies. The animals can suffer tracheal bruising, bleeding, scarring, and severe pain, and some die.
PCRM has worked with pediatrics programs across North America, showing them the advantages of human-based simulators and reminding them of the trauma and cruelty of animal use. Since PCRM’s campaign began in 2010, 11 programs have switched to nonanimal methods.
The latest convert is the University of Washington. After a 16-month effort that included contacts from PCRM physicians, members, and supporters about the problems with using ferrets, the University of Washington switched to simulators, finding them effective and affordable.
The Gaumard PREMIE Blue simulator, which replicates a 28-week premature infant, includes a realistic airway with a tongue, vocal cords, trachea, and esophagus. The simulator provides feedback and its skin even changes color based on the effectiveness of the airway ventilation.
Studies have shown simulators to be educationally superior to live animals. Unlike animals used in one-time lab exercises, simulators can be used repeatedly until trainees are confident.
Nine U.S. pediatrics programs still use animals for intubation training. Live kittens are used at Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia and the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City. At East Carolina University, residents practice on live ferrets.
Animals are often used repeatedly during a single day of training. At the University of Virginia, a calico cat named Fiddle had plastic tubes shoved down her throat 22 times in one day and suffered broken teeth due to “blunt trauma.”
The Animal Welfare Act requires medical centers to consider the use of alternatives to painful procedures on animals. Given that alternatives are widely available, PCRM is pushing medical centers to comply with the spirit of the act, filing federal complaints and organizing on-campus demonstrations when necessary. In April, PCRM physicians led a demonstration against the University of Virginia’s use of cats for pediatrics training and delivered a petition signed by 886 Virginia physicians and residents urging a move to nonanimal methods.
PCRM filed a federal complaint in April requesting that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service investigate East Carolina University’s use of ferrets. The complaint argued that there is no justification for any animal use, since suitable simulators are widely available.
East Carolina University obtains ferrets from Marshall BioResources, a Class A animal breeder that has been cited for at least 16 violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act since Oct. 8, 2008.
PCRM will continue to push medical centers to adopt humane and effective methods for training future pediatricians.
Help end the use of kittens and other animals in pediatrics residency courses: PCRM.org/Pediatrics