Lawmakers press Pentagon to stop using animals in medical training

Lawmakers press Pentagon to stop using animals in medical training
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A bipartisan group of 71 lawmakers is urging the Pentagon to stop using live animals in combat medical training.

The lawmakers, led by Reps. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and Joe Heck (R-Nev.), sent a letter Tuesday to Defense Secretary Ash Carter pressing the Pentagon on its progress on the issue.

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“While I went through live animal tissue training early in my Army career, advances in human-based simulation have made this new training more accurate,” Heck said in a statement announcing the letter. “Ending the use of live animals in military training and transitioning to simulations will increase military readiness and combat effectiveness, reduce training costs, and save the lives of countless animals."

A provision included a 2013 defense policy bill required the Pentagon to formalize plans to transition from animals to simulators and other non-animal training methods.

But little progress has been made since then, according to the lawmakers.

“From what we understand, the last policy changes related reducing animal use in military medical training were announced in mid-2014,” they wrote.

In the meantime, there have been more studies showing the simulations are more effective than using animals, they added.

For example, they cite 2015 research at the Keesler Air Force Base Medical Center that found “there is no objective benefit of animal training” and that “artificial simulators can be low cost when considering the cost of veterinary personnel and support facilities required for animal testing.”

The lawmakers also cite support from the 123,000-member American Osteopathic Association, which wrote a letter to Congress in May in support of a bill that would prohibit using live animals in military medical training.

The lawmakers specifically want to know what the Pentagon's next steps are to transition from animal use to other methods.

They also asked how many animals were used by each service in 2015, what the costs for live tissue animal labs are compared to simulation-base teaching and whether there are any regulations that require using live tissue for medical training. 

“The Department of Defense has the responsibility to provide the best available combat preparation to its medics,” Speier said in the news release. “But according to its own studies, simulations are more effective than maiming and killing animals for medical training."