ROOTSTOWN, Ohio—The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a nonprofit of more than 17,000 doctor members, is calling on Northeastern Ohio Medical University to stop using animals in a surgery training program. The medical ethics group has installed eye-catching billboards in Rootstown, Akron, and Youngstown, targeting the NEOMED-affiliated hospitals that are invited to participate in the program, which takes place at the university’s main campus in Rootstown. They read: “Ohio: Does Your Doctor Think You’re a Pig? ModernizeMedicalTraining.org.” In addition, the Physicians Committee has filed a complaint with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), requesting that the agency investigate NEOMED for violations of the Animal Welfare Act.
At NEOMED, surgery residents cut into live pigs and perform invasive procedures as part of their training, even though 79% of surveyed U.S. residencies (206 of 262) do not use animals. Trainees perform dozens of procedures on the animals, including chest tube placement (to drain air, blood, or other fluids); inserting a breathing tube into the windpipe; inserting surgical tools and a camera; removal of the gallbladder and kidneys; and spreading the ribs to access the heart. The animals are then killed following the training sessions.
The Physicians Committee’s complaint to the USDA points out that, under the Animal Welfare Act, researchers and course instructors must consider alternatives to procedures that may cause more than momentary or slight pain or distress to an animal. More than 10 other surgery residency programs in Ohio—including Cleveland Clinic, Wright State University, the University of Toledo, and Kettering Health Network in Dayton—use only human-relevant, nonanimal methods for training. Simulators mimic human anatomy, including lifelike skin, muscle, fat, and blood vessels. The devices can also bleed and provide lifelike physiological responses. Scientific studies show that simulators prepare surgeons as well or better than animals to perform life-saving procedures.
“It’s obvious to medical professionals everywhere that there’s no reason to use animals to teach surgery,” says Angie Eakin, MD, of Columbus. “NEOMED appears to be stuck in the past.”
For a copy of the federal complaint or to see the billboard artwork or locations, please contact Reina Pohl at 202-527-7326 or rpohl [at] pcrm.org.