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Navy Medical Officer Opposes Practicing on Goats

JamesSantosMD-050112A former navy medical officer has launched a petition to stop the U.S. Navy from using goats for medical students to practice their surgical skills.

Dr. James Santos, who served as an undersea medical officer, a certified U.S. Navy diver, and as the Department Head of the Primary Care Clinic at Naval Medical Clinic in Portsmouth, says it’s not only inhumane; it’s useless, and “nothing like treating moving, screaming soldiers who have been injured in combat.”

Dr. Santos has launched a petition on Change.org. He writes:

Thousands of live goats and pigs animals are cut apart, shot, and blown up in U.S. military training drills every year even though humane methods like human-patient simulators that provide more effective and realistic training are available and military regulations require that alternatives to animals be used whenever they exist.

As a physician and retired Navy medical officer, I know what it takes to save the lives of soldiers and civilians. And I can say as someone who has participated in animal laboratories that they did not improve my ability to treat humans and that the skills needed to treat traumatic injuries are best acquired without hurting any animals.

So I was shocked and disappointed to see this newly released hidden-camera video footage of live goats who had their limbs chopped off during a recent U.S. military training exercise (warning: graphic footage).

Crudely practicing emergency medical techniques on small, anesthetized animals is nothing like treating moving, screaming soldiers who have been injured in combat. Compared with humans, goats and pigs are much smaller, their skin is thicker, and the anatomy of their organs, blood vessels, skeletons are drastically different.

On the battlefield, military physicians, medics, and corpsmen must make quick life-and-death decisions and do not have the luxury of spending time to make sense of the drastic anatomical differences between humans and goats before treating their wounded comrades.

Unlike animal laboratories, simulators like SimMan and the Cut Suit have the right anatomy and can respond to medications and treatments just like a human would. This is acknowledged by many military facilities in the US, including the Navy Trauma Training Center in California where no animals are used, and by militaries in other countries around the world that use only non-animal methods for training. 95 percent of civilian medical training programs—including at prestigious facilities like Harvard and Yale—have completely replaced the use of animals for training in how to treat traumatic injuries like those covered in these military courses.

Switching to simulators that more realistically replicate human war injuries will not only spare thousands of animals’ lives, but it ultimately will improve the training experience for soldiers and better equip them to save human lives.