Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/washington/news.aspx?id=139323
Story Retrieval Date: 5/25/2013 8:11:26 PM CST
Courtesy of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
WASHINGTON – Most of us wouldn’t think of animals as being involved in the military but they play a key role – in the training of medics and corpsmen on how to deal with human casualties.
In early July, 15 members of Congress including Reps. Barney Frank, D-Mass., and Hank Johnson, D-Ga., co-signed a letter asking the Army to discontinue the use of animals in casualty training, stating it defies a joint U.S. Army regulation dating back to 2005. Almost two months later, the Army is not abiding by the regulation cited by the lawmaker.
In a document titled, “The Care and Use of Laboratory Animals in DOD Programs," paragraphs 5h(2) and 5h(3) prohibit-s “the wounding of dogs, cats, and nonhuman primates for medical or surgical training and their use in advanced trauma life support training.”
The regulation also states that, “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.”
In an email to a Medill reporter the Pentagon said, “The DOD takes animal treatment very seriously and we go great lengths to ensure all animals involved in DOD-funded research or training receive humane care at all times…it is our intent to continue to minimize the use of animals in all types of training.”
Pigs, goats and vervet monkeys are the most commonly used animals in casualty training. Vervets are mainly used to demonstrate the effects of nerve gas contact, while pigs and goats are used as examples for amputation and facial gunshot wound treatment.
The Department of Defense insists this type of training is vital to ensuring medics, caregivers in the U.S. Army, and corpsmen, caregivers in the Navy and Marines, are dealing with live models where wounds aren’t just simulated but inflicted.
Charles Rosciam, a retired captain who served in the Navy as a corpsman during the Vietnam War, said using animals in casualty training is unnecessary and a poor way of preparing military health-care providers for the real deal.
For example, Rosciam said the effects of nerve gas on a human are going to be much different than the effect on a monkey. With humans, you will see sweating and blue lips as an initial sign of contact with the gas. Vervets can’t sweat. When they are affected by nerve gas, the primary sign is their tails shaking.
After the traumatic experience, a vervet monkey is used three more times for such training during the course of a year.
Dr. John Pippin, a senior medical advisor for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, believes using vervets in training is useless unless the trainee plans on working in a zoo.
“It’s an archaic, outdated program,” he said. “Unless these military personnel are going to save monkeys, they aren’t going to learn what they need on the field.”
Rosciam said human simulators are “far superior” to the use of animals in effective training.
Rosciam, who spent five years at the Pentagon funding and creating alternative casualty training programs, said there are many alternatives – better alternatives.
Instead of working with animals under anesthesia, Rosciam said it makes more sense to work with a simulator that “looks like a human and feels like a human.”
“You hook it up to a computer which controls the coughing, smells [of blood or excrements], blood pressure, everything for all intense and purposes, it will react like a human being,” he said. “It does not move around, but neither does a pig or goat under anesthesia.”
Purchasing many of these simulators would be more cost-effective than replacing animals, Rosciam said.
“On the human simulator, you can practice [training] over and over again,” he said. “The use of pigs and goats is a one shot deal.”
Rosciam, who has treated over 100 casualties on the field from “explosions to gunshot wounds, you name it,” said there are just too many anatomical differences between humans and other animals. For example, he said, performing a tracheotomy, when a tube is inserted down a wounded soldier or Marine’s throat , is going to be very different when done on a goat. Such procedures are done to open up airways if one cannot breathe through the nose or mouth.
In other training sessions, pigs are shot in the face to mimic scenarios for tracheotomies, Rosciam and Pippin said.
“If you have to insert a tube down or catheter into a throat, for a human, it has to be between two to three inches deep,” Rosciam said. “It’s five centimeters for a goat or a pig. That’s a big difference.”
Rosciam is not alone in his thinking. Dr. John Pawlowski, a professor of anesthesia at Harvard University, agrees that human simulators are more effective in casualty training than use of animals. An instructor in whole body simulation for more than 15 years, Pawlowski has performed multiple mass-casualty scenarios, including nerve gas attacks, insecticide poisoning and deliberate toxic ingestion.
“The alternative [to using animals in casualty testing] is a rich clinical setting using whole-body manikins, vital sign monitors and actual clinical equipment,” he said. “There is nothing like [the impression of] a dead colleague, dying manikins and a full hazmat suit to convey the realism of such a situation.”
Although still set on using animals for the time being, the Defense Department said trainers do their best to eliminate animal use in casualty training.
“Our policy is to minimize the use of animals whenever possible, and alternative methods such as computer simulations are used extensively by the DOD,” the Pentagon statement said. “However, these alternatives do not always provide the best results needed for DOD researchers and medical personnel to save the lives and prevent injuries to our troops.”
Although it does not deny the benefits of simulators, the Defense Department said a trainee can learn more from a live model. While the military also uses manikins, videos, cadavers and even actors to complement animal use, it claims there is no better alternative than an animal model.
“Until there are validated, non-animal alternatives that can accurately mimic all of the attributes and nuances that a live patient can deliver, the DOD will continue to use anesthetized animals in order to provide the best trauma training for the life-sustaining care of troops facing death or complex battle injuries,” the statement said.
Dr. Pippin said there is no point in such training since most of the trainees are onlookers, while only one person actually performs the procedure.
“It seems that it doesn’t matter what purpose you use the monkey for, ethical or valid, if they’re not doing anything with their hands, I’m not sure what educational value this has," he said.