Harmful animal use is commonplace within veterinary and other biomedical education worldwide, but in many universities humane alternative teaching methods are being introduced. E.g., I helped establish an alternative veterinary surgical program at my veterinary school in Western Australia in 2000; all other Australian veterinary schools have since followed suit; and from 2013-2014 I directed the state of the art clinical skills laboratory at Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine teaching veterinary surgical and clinical skills without any harmful animal use. These publications explore this important and controversial issue.
Dedicated clinical skills laboratories (CSLs) that make use of models, mannequins and simu- lators, are being increasingly established in medical and veterinary schools. These have been commonplace in medical schools for more than two decades, but their incorporation within the teaching of veterinary curricula has occurred much more recently. In 2007, a decision was taken to establish a CSL at Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine. We considered the range of skills that we wished to teach, the physical space and equipment needed, the storage and air conditioning requirements, the facilities needed to deliver PowerPoint lectures and case study presentations, and other essentials necessary to handle cadaver specimens. We converted an appropriate campus building to our needs, hired teaching staff, and started to source models and mannequins for the teaching of veterinary clinical skills. In 2010, 177 senior students completed a survey evaluating their experiences within our CSL. Student satisfaction was generally high, with 95% of respondents feeling that the CSL had improved their psychomotor skills. However, 15% of them felt that the models were insufficiently realistic. Our clinical skills programme has since developed considerably, and it currently offers instruction in a diverse array of surgical, medical and other clinical skills. We hope that this description of our experiences may assist others embarking on similar projects elsewhere.
Laboratory classes in which animals are seriously harmed or killed, or which use cadavers or body parts from ethically debatable sources, are controversial within veterinary and other biomedical curricula. Along with the development of more humane teaching methods, this has increasingly led to objections to participation in harmful animal use. Such cases raise a host of issues of importance to universities, including those pertaining to curricular design and course accreditation, and compliance with applicable animal welfare and antidiscrimination legislation. Accordingly, after detailed investigation, some universities have implemented formal policies to guide faculty responses to such cases, and to ensure that decisions are consistent and defensible from legal and other policy perspectives. However, many other institutions have not yet done so, instead dealing with such cases on an ad hoc basis as they arise. Among other undesirable outcomes this can lead to insufficient student and faculty preparation, suboptimal and inconsistent responses, and greater likelihood of legal challenge. Accordingly, this paper provides pertinent information about the evolution of conscientious objection policies within Australian veterinary schools, and about the jurisprudential bases for conscientious objection within Australia and the USA. It concludes with recommendations for the development and implementation of policy within this arena.
An image-rich summary of humane teaching methods, and the evidence concerning their educational efficacy.
Animal use resulting in harm or death has historically played an integral role in veterinary education, in disciplines such as surgery, physiology, biochemistry, anatomy, pharmacology, and parasitology. However, many non-harmful alternatives now exist, including computer simulations, high quality videos, “ethically-sourced cadavers,” such as from animals euthanased for medical reasons, preserved specimens, models and surgical simulators, non-invasive self-experimentation, and supervised clinical experiences. Veterinary students seeking to use such methods often face strong opposition from faculty members, who usually cite concerns about their teaching efficacy. Consequently, studies of veterinary students were reviewed comparing learning outcomes generated by non-harmful teaching methods with those achieved by harmful animal use. Of eleven published from 1989 to 2006, nine assessed surgical training – historically the discipline involving greatest harmful animal use. 45.5% (5/11) demonstrated superior learning outcomes using more humane alternatives. Another 45.5% (5/11) demonstrated equivalent learning outcomes, and 9.1% (1/11) demonstrated inferior learning outcomes. Twenty one studies of non-veterinary students in related academic disciplines were also published from 1968 to 2004. 38.1% (8/21) demonstrated superior, 52.4% (11/21) demonstrated equivalent, and 9.5% (2/21) demonstrated inferior learning outcomes using humane alternatives. Twenty nine papers in which comparison with harmful animal use did not occur illustrated additional benefits of humane teaching methods in veterinary education, including: time and cost savings, enhanced potential for customisation and repeatability of the learning exercise, increased student confidence and satisfaction, increased compliance with animal use legislation, elimination of objections to the use of purpose-killed animals, and integration of clinical perspectives and ethics early in the curriculum. The evidence demonstrates that veterinary educators can best serve their students and animals, while minimising financial and time burdens, by introducing well-designed teaching methods not reliant on harmful animal use.
I still remember the horror of the physiology labs that took place when I was a veterinary student. Just like in those recently ended at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center (“CU halts last dog vivisections,” Local News, Jan. 30), unsuspecting animals were anesthetized by barely competent students who then inserted tubes into arteries and veins and injected various drugs to observe the effects on blood pressure. In some cases arteries were blocked entirely. Students cut animals open and severed nerves to demonstrate the effects on heart rate, and forced their victims to breathe various gases to demonstrate the effects on respiration. One procedure involved blocking the air supply entirely. The lab guide instructed students to artificially respire the animals if they ceased breathing, but gave no instructions on how to do so. Not surprisingly, several animals died prematurely during this lab, and those who did not were killed at the end of the lab by lethal injections administered by these trainee “healers.”
Out of sheer disgust at this completely unnecessary waste of life, I and some other students refused to participate in these laboratories, and instead demanded humane alternatives such as computer simulations, videos and non-harmful experimentation on student volunteers in order to demonstrate physiological principles. Just like those brave and compassionate students at Colorado who chose not to participate in these labs, we endured the harassment and sometimes less-than-subtle intimidation of our professors, including academic penalty.
Colorado is to be commended for finally ending the last of these labs. However, the school’s apparent concern only with the cost savings, and its willingness to consider reintroducing these labs in the future, is not. CU should exhume and dust off its ethical standards and take a serious look at the large number of educational studies showing that students learning via humane methods learn at least as well, and should join the 82 percent of U.S. medical schools, including Harvard, Stanford and Yale, that have consigned these ethically and educationally indefensible labs to the dustbin of history.
Dr. Andrew Knight, BVMS, Director of Education, Animalearn, Jenkintown, PA.