HEIDELBERG, Germany — U.S. Army Europe’s plan to use anesthetized pigs to teach combat medical training appears to be on life support after two German regional governments denied permission, one for the third time.
Thüringen, a small, forested state in the middle of Germany, refused last month. The U.S. had been rejected three times by the Oberpfalz government in Bavaria.
Both governments said using live animals to train combat-bound medics in lifesaving techniques violates the German animal protection law.
“For weeks, we [received] literally hundreds of protest e-mails from all over Germany, but also from Austria and France,” said Joseph Karl, spokesman for Oberpfalz, where the U.S. Army has its largest training base in Germany. “There was not one e-mail in which someone would have supported the experiments.”
What happens next is unclear. USAREUR officials have said they are committed to providing the “live tissue” training, by making it palatable to the Germans, sending medics back to the U.S., or seeking permission elsewhere, such as Romania or Bulgaria, which have fewer training restrictions.
Still, the 170th Brigade Combat Team out of Baumholder is to deploy next year, and USAREUR officials declined to say when, where or whether unit medics would get the training.
USAREUR considers the training an important part of a combat trauma course that since last year has been mandated for deploying medics. The course is intended to decrease “preventable combat deaths,” primarily from hemorrhage. Training involves learning to apply tourniquets, insert needles to inflate collapsed lungs, and surgically create airways.
But live-tissue training is not a required part of the trauma course, USAREUR acknowledged recently, and the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment out of Vilseck deployed in the summer without having done it.
“There’s no replacement for it, especially at the surge levels we’re talking about,” said David Morehouse, vice president of operations for Deployment Medicine International, a contractor that provides the training.
Working under stress on the animals, which medics name and try to keep alive in an outdoor exercise meant to mimic combat, provides expertise and confidence, he said.
The animals are euthanized at the end of the exercise without regaining consciousness and don’t suffer, he said: “We never break that deal.”
Marine medic Sgt. William Treseder said in an e-mail from Afghanistan this month that the training helped him save a Marine’s life after their unit was ambushed, sustained numerous casualties and had to evacuate under fire through water- and mud-filled trenches.
Treseder credited the training for his “ability to care for the wounded while still being able to focus outward and avoid shellshock.”
“It made a difference in at least one Marine’s life,” he wrote. “And it helps me sleep at night.”
The German refusal has buoyed American animal rights advocates such as the Humane Society, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which for years have sought to curtail the Defense Department’s use of animals in training and testing. They say technologically sophisticated mannequins and simulators provide the best, most realistic training — without any ethical problems.
The military has used animals for training and testing for decades but is exploring other methods. The Army has funded 10 simulation labs and this fall the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command sought proposals for a $15.2 million effort to compare live-tissue training with simulator-based training alternatives.
Within three years, the USAMRC wants to know how the two methods compare in training and retention of skills learned, to have identified weaknesses in the simulator training and to “develop simulator systems that have the potential to replace the presumed gold standard of animal/live tissue training,” according to the command’s study proposal.
Last December, a bill called the “BEST Practices Act” was introduced by Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., with 32 co-sponsors. It called for the Defense Department to phase out the use of animals in favor of simulators and other non-animal training within three years, but died in committee.
Stars and Stripes’ Marcus Kloeckner contributed to this report.