Longtime Army Doctor Asks Military to End Animal Trauma Training
It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to understand that using and killing animals in trauma training is cruel and archaic. But 20 years as an Army neurosurgeon and 15 years spent treating civilian trauma provides William Morris, M.D., a solid platform when he speaks out against the military’s use of live animals in combat trauma training courses.
Dr. Morris, who is chief of neurosurgery at the Multicare Neuroscience Center in Tacoma, Wash., first experienced the military’s use of animals in an Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS) course in 1985. The course involved performing tracheostomies and chest tube placement using live goats, which he calls "pointless and barbaric."
In a recent letter in a California newspaper, Dr. Morris wrote, "Years ago, I took a training course similar to these using live animals. Even then I found the exercise cruel and useless. Pig or goat anatomy simply is not the same as a human’s."
The U.S. military’s combat trauma training courses use approximately 9,000 goats and pigs each year. This use is suboptimal due to, among other issues, the animals’ anatomical and physiological differences from humans. Compared with humans, goats and pigs have smaller torsos and limbs, thicker skin, and important differences in anatomy of the head and neck, internal organs, rib cage, blood vessels, and airway.
The most important elements of combat trauma training are human-specific injuries and treatments, volume of trauma exposure, and team building. The ideal training paradigm combines medical simulators, immersive simulated combat environments, and military or civilian trauma center training.
Dr. Morris agrees that rotations in civilian trauma centers and the use of simulators allow for superior education and preparation of military personnel. He performs most of his surgeries at Tacoma General Hospital, a Level II trauma center, where he regularly treats trauma patients with injuries—head trauma, neck fractures, gunshot wounds—that are very similar to those seen in a combat situation.
A 2006 report found that 74 percent of Level II trauma centers, like Dr. Morris’, report a problem with inadequate numbers of on-call physicians. Civilian trauma centers are also threatened by a shortage of supporting medical personnel. In this way, embedding military physicians, physician assistants, and medics and corpsmen in civilian trauma centers yields benefits both to fallen troops and to civilians whose local trauma centers face staff shortages or closure.
Ever an advocate for ending animal use in trauma training, Dr. Morris was even using simulators in courses he taught 15 years ago. And he is now joining PCRM in asking the military to follow the civilian medical community’s lead and move away from animal-based training to human-based methods that simulate human anatomy and injuries.
When confronted with a trauma training course that involves using animals, Dr. Morris recommends military personnel speak to the course instructors about switching to simulators like TraumaMan that provide a superior educational experience without killing animals.
Visit BetterMilitaryMedicine.org to watch video of trauma training on goats and learn more about improving military medical training.