WASHINGTON — The Pentagon told Congress this month that more troops could die if it stops using live animals for battlefield medical training before medical simulation devices are up to snuff.
According to the April 8 report submitted by Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, the Defense Department plans to phase out the use of goats and other animals frequently used in combat medic training.
But the current human simulation devices such as mannequins, used in emergency medical training, haven't been shown to have sufficient "high fidelity" to base medical training on, the report said.
"Premature removal of the live animal model from combat casualty training programs would likely degrade combat trauma care on the battlefield and would potentially increase Warfighter fatalities from battlefield injuries," the report said. "Absent high-fidelity medical simulators, the medical corps anticipates a diminished capacity to administer battlefield medical care in the short term until experience levels increase."
Stars and Stripes received a copy of the report from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a group that advocates vegan diets and alternatives to animal research. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has also criticized the report, which it said excuses widespread cruelty to animals during training exercises including the splinting of broken bones and tracheotomies — cutting of holes in animal windpipes.
Dr. William Morris, a retired Army doctor who practices as a neurosurgeon in Tacoma, Wash., said simulators are better than animals for training.
"The simulators mimic many different types of problems, and you can take them out in actual situations that might occur in combat," he said. "It's really a superior way of training."
Animal use, Morris said, is an "anachronism" that has been supplanted in most nonmilitary emergency medical training. Drawbacks of using animals include differing anatomy, as well as the difficulty in supplying and managing enough animals for each trainee to get adequate experience. Highly realistic simulators have been on the market for several years, he said.
Although animals remain a component of battlefield trauma training, the report noted that DOD has been spending about $16 million yearly on simulators to aid in emergency training. In 2010, the department started a $20 million research program in 2010 aimed at researching the effect of using live animals in medic training.
The report also said that combat lifesaver courses for troops who are not medics do not use live animals for training.