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Group argues HCMC doesn't need to use live animals for training anymore

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A group of doctors with a national physicians group says Hennepin County Medical Center is behind the times when it comes to training on live animals – but the hospital argues it's still necessary for some key procedures.

The complaint comes from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and was sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and asks the agency to investigate practices at HCMC.

Here's a copy of the complaint the committee sent.

The complaint

The complaint from the committee – a nonprofit comprising more than 12,000 physicians – says HCMC is using live goats and rabbits to help with practicing and training for some procedures as part of emergency medicine residency training – including drilling holes into the skull, removing fluids around the eye and heart area, and placing chest tubes.

The complaint argues technology has advanced to the point where that's not necessary, and details a number of mannequins and simulators that include lifelike qualities, such as skin, realistic fat placement, and muscle. The group says these mannequins and simulators could replace the live sheep and rabbits in these procedures. You can see some of them here.

They also point out a survey found just 16 of 135 programs that responded still used live animals for training, and note HCMC is the only hospital in Minnesota to continue the practice.

The Animal Welfare Act also states training on animals has to be proven as "unavoidable" – which HCMC has not done effectively, according to the complaint.

HCMC has been approved to use up to 450 sheep (up to 20 procedures each) and 450 rabbits (up to three procedures each) over a three-year period, it says.

HCMC responds

The medical center however says while it's working to eliminate the use of animals, it argues that not everything it's doing can be replicated on a mannequin or simulator at this point.

HCMC says there are "a few critical, lifesaving procedures" that can only be taught "reliably" with the use of a live animal.

"Until we can be certain that the conditions present during procedures can be replicated with simulation we will continue limited use of animals, in addition to simulation and cadavers, in order to produce the most highly trained emergency and trauma physicians who will be prepared to save lives because of the training that they received," HCMC said in a statement.

Their long-term goal is to "eliminate" the use of animals in the training programs.

HCMC also says it supports the "judicious" use of animals as part of education and advancements in human health, and insists on "the humane and ethical treatment of animals."

"We adhere to all applicable federal, state, local laws and institutional policies and guidelines governing animal research," HCMC says.

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