UNC law students and members of the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund hosted an event at the School of Law Wednesday called Saving Animal and Human Lives: UNC Can Modernize Medical Training.
Director of Research Advocacy for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Ryan Merkley, asked the audience if they believed cocaine was still necessary to treat toothaches.
“And of course it’s not,” he said. “The fact is that UNC does not need to use animals to teach emergency medicine residents.”
Merkley said UNC, like almost all medical schools in the country, has stopped operating on live animals in its general medical training. However, the University does continue to use live pigs in the emergency medicine residency program.
Merkley said the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine filed a federal complaint with the Department of Agriculture in August against the animal use because they feel the treatment on the animals is cruel and unnecessary.
“This boils down to two things,” he said. “A lack of belief in a viable alternative and a belief that this better prepares students.”
UNC released a statement in August defending the use of live animals in the emergency medicine residency program.
“We believe that our physicians are better prepared to perform life saving interventions for humans as a result of this training,” the statement said.
Merkley said some medical schools have been reluctant to remove animal testing in the past because they believed it would hurt the education of the students in the program. He said the University of South Carolina’s School of Medicine made the decision to not use live animals in emergency medicine training and did not see a change in quality of training.
“Considering all of this, why does UNC still continue to use pigs to teach emergency medical residents?” he said. “I have no idea.”
Law student and member of the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund, Kyle Grusholt, said his organization fully supports ending the use of animals in the medical school because there are better ways of training students.
“There are newer techniques that are more precise and are used in medical schools across the country,” he said.
Merkley said he used simulation programs and models to teach emergency medical procedures effectively in medical schools across the country and in the Army.
“UNC has a state of the art facility that would allow them to do that,” Grusholt said.
President of the Student Animal Legal Defense fund, Hannah Abernethy, said her organization is trying to help Merkley and his group put an end to the use of animals in the medical school.
“As law students there’s not much we can do,” Abernathy said. “But we are trying to raise awareness of the intersection between animal rights and the law.”
Merkley said the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine plans to send a petition with at least 1,000 signatures to the Board of Governors.
“We think it’s clear that if alternatives exist they should be used,” he said.