USAREUR makes third request for live-tissue training

By NANCY MONTGOMERY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 30, 2010

HEIDELBERG, Germany — U.S. Army Europe is making a third attempt for permission to use live, anesthetized pigs to train its combat medics after two earlier proposals were denied by the local German government, which said the training violated animal protection laws.

The latest proposal to the Oberfalz regional government in Bavaria includes using a different company to provide the animals and live-tissue training, as it is known, according to a German newspaper.

USAREUR spokesman Bruce Anderson said that the command views the three proposals as “an ongoing conversation in which we are working to come to agreement that the training is in line with the German animal protection law.”

He did not provide other details of the new plan.

Oberpfalz officials confirmed there was a new proposal but declined further comment.

The use of live animals for the brigade combat team trauma training at the Army’s Grafenwöhr training center has drawn international attention because the training raises ethical questions about the proper use and care of animals and the best teaching methods to save human lives.

USAREUR says using the pigs for live-tissue training is the best method for medics who’ll be trying to save lives without a doctor’s supervision in remote battlefields. They say nothing can match the verisimilitude of real blood, the feel of the live tissue and the stress inherent in keeping a dying animal alive.

Those opposed, such as the German Doctors Against Animal Experiments, the Humane Society of the United States, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine, say the training is unethical — and has been superceded by increasingly sophisticated mannequins, stints in civilian trauma centers, or practicing on cadavers.

They say that animal anatomy and physiology are different from humans, causing the potential for mistakes when medics try the same procedures on people, and that studies have proven it. According to the PCRM, most medical schools in the U.S. no longer use animals for practice.

Last week, the group sent a letter to the Oberpfalz interior minister urging the government to again deny USAREUR’s request.

“Your original ruling — that the use of animals for this training is educationally unnecessary and would violate Germany’s Animal Welfare Act — was a sound one, and I hope that you will maintain it,” wrote neurosurgeon and retired Army officer Dr. William Morris, a member of the PCRM.

“Having attended courses using live animals and as well as ones using medical simulators, I have no doubt that simulation can not only adequately replace the Army’s proposed use of animals but also surpass it.”

The animals are anesthetized, injured, intubated, cut, sewn up, and ultimately euthanized in the training, which has for many years been done by special forces and other medics. Goats and pigs are typically used nowadays, but dogs were used until at least the 1970s.

USAREUR says the training is mandatory for deploying medics since February 2009, after the Pentagon was persuaded enhanced training could sharply reduce “preventable combat deaths.”

But the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment deployed in June from USAREUR without the live tissue training after an initial request to German authorities was denied. Anderson said that unit needed a waiver to deploy without the training.

Anderson said USAREUR remained committed to providing the training and was “confident” that permission would be granted.

A possible boost to USAREUR’s position was a story in a German publication, Der Neue Tag, that anesthetized pigs are already being used in Germany for training surgical techniques, at a teaching hospital in Ulm, and that surgeons there swore by it.