John Hopkins School of Medicine has announced it will no longer use live pigs in order to help train its college students.
The Baltimore area college said the change would be occurring next month with the elimination of a course that required students to operate on live pigs that were then euthanized when the procedure was complete.
Audrey Huang, a Hopkins spokeswoman, said that the decision came after a yearlong review board determined the course to be unnecessary to teach "the best doctors in the world." The curriculum is put under review on a regular basis to ensure that all information and processes being taught are up to date.
She added that the course had been popular among students and received high marks in alumni reviews.
"The latest task force to examine the pros and the cons and the ethics decided that the bar has to be pretty high to justify doing this," said Huang. "While students were huge fans of the course it felt like it wasn't absolutely necessary."
Although the portion of the course in which students operated on the pigs was optional, Huang said that each student who enrolled in the course also opted to perform the surgery.
The school is currently considering the use of simulators, which other medical universities including Harvard already have in place.
"I think the only way to get good at doing a particular surgery or operation is do do it over and over again," said Dr. Neel Kantak, Harvard Medical School.
The University of Maryland School of Medicine is one such school to have implemented a simulation center, which opened in 2006. Students there have the opportunity to practice procedures as many times as they would like to until they are successful, writes Meredith Cohn for The Baltimore Sun.
Data from animal rights group the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine shows that John Hopkins had previously been one of two accredited Universities in the United States and Canada to use live animals for medical education. The group has been engaged in a battle for more than a decade in an effort to put a stop to the use of animals for training.
The committee was instrumental in the organization of many events in opposition to the use of animals, including picketing outside the school and offering petitions signed by doctors. The group also tried to have the school investigated by Baltimore City prosecutors, claiming they had violated animal cruelty laws in the state. However, that effort was unsuccessful.
A bill was introduced in the General Assembly this year, backed by the group, that would have banned the practice of using live animals in this way. That bill ended up not moving forward after a hearing in which the University defended its practice.
JHU officials have maintained that the school has always complied with the US Department of Agriculture regulations as well as other institutional and governmental animal welfare guidelines.
The University of Tennessee College of Medicine at Chattanooga is now the only school in the country to use live animals in its curriculum.