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Ryan Johnson, Published April 04 2013

Group urges Sanford, NDSU to stop using live pigs in training program

FARGO – Leaders of Sanford Medical Center and North Dakota State University are being urged to stop using live pigs in a joint trauma training program here.

Marie Crandall, associate professor of surgery at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., sent a letter Thursday to Sanford President Dennis Millirons and NDSU President Dean Bresciani asking for the change before the advanced trauma life support program holds its next course on Monday.

The training involves cutting into live, sedated pigs and inserting needles and tubes into them before they are killed.

“As I am sure you are aware, 98 percent of ATLS courses in the United States and Canada – including the other two ATLS programs in North Dakota – have turned away from the outdated use of animals in this training because of the marked advantages in cost, anatomical validity, and standardization of both training and feedback,” she wrote.

Crandall wrote that every surgical skill taught in these courses can be taught using simulators and human cadavers, alternative models that have been approved by the American College of Surgeons.

She’s a member of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a nonprofit organization with headquarters in Washington, D.C., that opposes animal research and urges people to adopt a vegetarian diet.

The committee has taken on the local trauma training before, lobbying the former MeritCare Health System in 2008, appealing to NDSU officials and then-Gov. John Hoeven in 2009 and filing a letter with Fargo City Attorney Erik Johnson in October 2011 asking him to launch a criminal investigation.

When asked for comment, a Sanford spokesman referred to a March 2011 letter from Medical Trauma Director Steven Briggs to Bresciani regarding criticism from the organization at the time.

Briggs wrote that he had participated in ATLS courses using other methods, including the human simulators and cadavers, but neither provided better training than working with live tissue.

“Ultimately, I think the students say it best,” Briggs wrote. “We continually ask the students in our ATLS courses to give their honest opinion regarding the value of the pig lab. To date we have had no students say remove it.”

NDSU officials declined to comment on the latest letter. In response to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s October 2011 request for a criminal investigation into the program, NDSU Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee Chairman Neil Dyer told The Forum that there was no plan to change the course.

“NDSU’s policy or response to this has always been that the use of living tissue is a much better training mechanism for trauma physicians, and there’s plenty of literature out there to support that,” he said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587