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Group Tries to Block Live Animal Training at JBLM

A Tacoma doctor and a medical ethics advocacy group are petitioning the Defense Department to halt exercises at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in which airmen use live animals for training.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine wants the Defense Department to move away from employing four-legged mammals for medical exercises and instead make more use of simulators that provide better training for doctors.

The group sent its request to Air Force Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Thomas Travis this week. It's asking the Air Force to nix the exercises this week and later this month on the grounds that they run counter to updated Defense Department guidelines that restrict the use of animals for training events when other options are available.

They argue that the animals -- pigs in this case -- are ineffective for training, especially in comparison to the latest human simulation models that they say offer a more lifelike experience for infantry medics and hospital doctors alike.

"It's just not very good," said William Morris, a retired Army doctor who signed the request. He is now the chief of neurosurgery for MultiCare Health System in Tacoma.

The animals are "not anything like what you deal with a human patient," he said.

Air Force officials with direct knowledge of the exercise could not be reached for comment about the petition.

Animal rights advocacy groups have protested the use of animals in military exercises at Lewis-McChord in the past. In 2009, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals targeted Fort Lewis over its use of goats to train Army medics.

Madigan Army Medical Center makes occasional use of so-called live tissue training. The exercise that drew the attention of the medical group, however, was not under the hospital's command.

Madigan also makes extensive use of lifelike mannequins for training exercises, such as a birth simulator and others used for combat training. The medical ethics group would prefer to see the military use those models exclusively.

Morris retired from a 20-year Army career in 1993. He remembers thinking at the time that medical exercises involving pigs and goats were not particularly helpful in training doctors.

"There's very little about the anatomy that translates," he said. "You're trying to teach people to care for a wounded soldier."

The medical ethics group learned of the exercises by following contract proposals. It noticed one that called for the purchase of several pigs for an Air Force exercise.

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