Houston School Trains Medical Students Using Live Pigs, Violates Federal Law


The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a United States nonprofit consisting of more than 12,000 physicians, is calling on Baylor College of Medicine to modernize its medical training methods and stop live animal use. According to a complaint that the Physicians Committee filed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Oct. 18, the Houston, Texas school’s use of live pigs to train emergency medicine students violates federal law.

While Baylor uses live pigs for this training, 94 percent of surveyed emergency medicine residency programs (246 of 263) in the United States and Canada use only non-animal training methods, such as medical simulators modeled on human anatomy. In fact, every other civilian emergency medicine residency in Texas exclusively uses human-relevant methods, including all five programs affiliated with either Texas A&M or the University of Texas.

John Pippin, M.D., F.A.C.C., Dallas physician and director of academic affairs for PCRM, speaking to the press. 

“Not only is it ethically unjustifiable, using live animals to teach human medicine is simply an irresponsible, substandard practice,” says John Pippin, M.D., F.A.C.C., Dallas physician and director of academic affairs for the Physicians Committee. “When nearly all other programs use human-relevant training methods, it’s time to step into the 21st century and move beyond the crude practice of using animals.”

Wisconsin Army National Guard combat medics use a realistic human model, rather than live animals, during a training session. Image credit Wisconsin National Guard, CC BY-SA 3.0.

The Baylor College of Medicine Simulation Center could provide the resources to replace the use of live animals in the emergency medicine residency. Human-relevant training methods can be used to teach all emergency procedures, as they are at most other emergency medicine residency programs. Simulators commonly used by other emergency medicine residencies include Simulab’s TraumaMan System—a realistic, anatomically correct human body simulator with lifelike skin, fat, and muscle—and several others. Compared to humans, pigs have smaller torsos, lighter limbs, and thicker skin. There are also important differences in the anatomy of the head and neck, internal organs, rib cage, blood vessels, and the airway, making pigs especially poorly suited to simulate procedures on humans.

The complaint, signed by seven Texas physicians, cites inadequate oversight of the training protocol by the university’s animal care and use committee and violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act, which requires “that a principal investigator—including course instructors—consider alternatives to procedures that may cause more than momentary or slight pain or distress to any animal used for research purposes.”

In January 2017, we filed a complaint regarding Baylor’s animal use for training paramedics from Montgomery County Hospital District (MCHD). One week later, MCHD announced an end to that animal use, citing changing norms of medical education. The same principle is at work here, and we are hoping for a similar result.

Featured image: pigs look out from their pen on a farm. Image credit Bob Klannukarn, CC BY-SA 3.0.

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Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research and medical training. Click to see author's profile.

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