As the proud spouse of an Iraq war veteran, I am well aware of the constant danger that soldiers face there and in Afghanistan""places where roads might be minefields and people might be bombs. Combat medics are our soldiers' lifelines, and high-quality experience is essential to their preparedness. As a trained researcher and scientist, however, I am also well aware of the inherent flaws in programs that use live animals for trauma training. This is an unnecessary, outdated and unethical practice, and your tax dollars are funding it.
One such "exercise"- occurred recently at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii, where soldiers in the U.S. Army were ordered to shoot live anesthetized pigs. The Army would not release details, but a Navy medic described a similar training exercise in a 2006 New York Times article:
"My pig?"- he said. "They shot him twice in the face with a 9-millimeter pistol, and then six times with an AK-47 and then twice with a 12-gauge shotgun. And then he was set on fire."-
These horrific exercises are upsetting to soldiers, who regularly call PETA to ask for our help in stopping them. PETA has appealed to the military, pointing out that there are effective and empirically validated alternatives. The Combat Trauma Patient Simulation System, for example, now in use at some Army and Navy bases, is a manikin that realistically represents human anatomy and traumatic injury. It breathes, hemorrhages, has a pulse, blinks and even simulates dying, providing troops with directly applicable experience and valuable feedback.
Military programs have also trained medics in the emergency rooms of civilian trauma center hospitals, a mutually beneficial alliance that provides the medics with experience and understaffed ERs with assistance. Most top medical schools have abandoned the use of animals in surgical training, and it is time for the military to modernize its training as well.
Consider the difference between a pilot who trains with high-tech simulators and a pilot who trains with an outdated video game from the 1980s. I would prefer not to fly with Captain Atari, given a choice. This scenario might seem extreme, but so is shooting a live animal and extrapolating that experience to wounded people. Medics and soldiers will do their best with whatever training they receive, but we can give them a superior foundation by providing state-of-the-art technology. Otherwise, they will have no choice but to apply their animal-based training to humans under the stressful conditions of combat, and something crucial might be lost in translation.
Shortsightedness has far-reaching implications. The alternatives to animal-based trauma training are available, and the science is strong. We don't have to choose between the pig and the soldier or between competence and compassion. The choice is clear if we are all willing to open our eyes: Modernize trauma training for soldiers and medics with animal-free instruction.