Washington University in St. Louis has decided to stop using live cats in their pediatric training, a move Bob Barker has been pushing for for months.
According to PETA, Washington was the last program in the country to use the outdated training method, which involves students intubating sedated cats to practice pediatric medical techniques.
Most schools now use mannequins for training, and back in April, Barker offered to give the school $75,000 to fund state-of-the-art pediatric simulators if they would end the practice of using live animals.
Now, after years of complaints from PETA, the school is finally making the switch, and the animal rights group couldn’t be happier.
“PETA is thrilled that (the university) has finally decided to spare cats the pain of enduring crude medical training drills and is joining the hundreds of other facilities across the country that teach people to save babies’ lives by exclusively using sophisticated lifelike simulators,” said Justin Goodman, the group’s director of laboratory investigations.
Jackie Ferman, a spokesperson for the St. Louis Children’s Hospital, said that use of live cats is no longer considered necessary. According to Ferman, “The pediatric advanced life support course no longer includes live animal training to conform with guidelines from the American Heart Association, which developed the course and does not require or endorse the use of animals.”
Despite these guidelines, some medical professionals feel that using cats is the only way to properly train for pediatric intubation. Dr. Bo Kennedy, a pediatrician at Children’s, has stated that most students prefer to practice on live animals, and that the mannequins are not an adequate substitute.
“The reason we use the cats is because the cat’s upper airway is very similar to that of a newborn infant,” Kennedy said in May. “It has the same fragile tissues that we need to be very careful with, and the protective airway reflexes that rapidly close. Mannequins have gotten much more sophisticated, but they’re still plastic and don’t really respond like normal tissue.”
However, opinions like Kennedy’s seem to be in the minority. Like Ferman, pediatric anesthesiologist Dr. Tom Poulton sees no need to use cats in the practice, and said that many schools began utilizing simulators in the 1980s.
“People have just been dropping this right and left as it becomes more apparent there is no educational benefit,” Poulton said. “The criterion for success is to skillfully, gently and safely intubate real human beings, so we don’t waste our time with animals.”
STLToday reports that the Washington University training lab had nine cats that were intubated three to four times per year. The university typically adopted the cats out after three years, but there’s no word on whether the most recent batch has been rehomed.