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If our hopes are to build a worldwide community of physicians with empathy, care, and concern for their patients, then to completely eradicate the inhumane practice of dog labs which treat companion animals like pedagogical tools with little intrinsic value seems like a logical part of the process.
The majority of live animals used to teach basic physiology and pharmacology in labs are canines, which is why the term 'dog labs' has become so common. Dog labs include several disturbing procedures. First, students or instructors anesthetize a healthy dog. Then, the students cut open the dog's chest and use her beating heart to demonstrate principles of physiology and pharmacology. Finally, at the end of the demonstration, the students kill the dog. In some cases, mistakes by novice students during the procedure lead to the dog being improperly anesthetized, causing the animal to cry as she endures intense pain and discomfort.
While technology and innovation has allowed us so many possible advances in medical education, dog labs persist. No medical advances are made in the dog labs; they merely demonstrate physiological reactions to common drugs, which are already well known to the medical community.
The increasing pressure from the public as well as medical students who object to sacrificing animals when alternatives are available has led to the majority of U.S. medical schools moving away from the use of dog labs. In the United Kingdom, dog labs have been completely eliminated from medical education, and 80 percent of U.S. medical schools, including Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Columbia, have eliminated animal labs from their curricula. Instead, these schools use non-invasive alternatives such as computer software, videos, and observations of human surgeries to instruct medical students about the human body. Interactive software can graphically simulate human physiology as well as evaluate how pharmacological agents affect factors such as heart rate, blood pressure, and heart disease.
Most schools that operate dog labs allow students to opt out or use an alternative. But accounts of intimidation from both professors and other medical students persist, resulting in many future doctors having to kill their first patient: a dependent companion animal with the misfortune of being earmarked for a live animal lab. We need to continue to inform the medical and educational community that we vehemently oppose dog labs in medical education.
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