Ferrets are off the operating table at Madigan Army Medical Center.
The hospital has ceased using them for pediatric intubation exercises after a long campaign by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. PETA said the practice "requires repeatedly forcing hard plastic tubes down (ferrets') delicate windpipes and can cause bleeding, swelling, pain, scarring, collapsed lungs, and even death."
The decision to quit using ferrets came from Maj. Gen. Richard Thomas, who leads the Western Regional Medical Command at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The practice ended in June.
Madigan and military units at Lewis-McChord continue to use live animals for other exercises, including ones that generally result in the deaths of pigs or goats. The Defense Department maintains they're sometimes essential for training purposes.
Madigan from time to time comes under scrutiny from PETA and other organizations that contend animals are no longer necessary for advanced medical training at Defense Department hospitals because of advances in simulation tools that provide more humanlike features.
In 2009, PETA hosted an eye-catching protest outside Madigan's gates over the use of live goats in an exercise. In May, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine sought to block an Air Force exercise at Madigan that involved pigs. The Air Force training went on despite the appeal. A senior Pentagon official responded to the pig complaint with a letter describing the use of animals as an important aspect of training for combat medics.
"Current combat training programs have contributed to the lowest killed-in-action rate and fatality rates in military history," Patrick Mason, a senior official in the office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, wrote to the physicians group. "Currently, live animal use is an essential tool in this training curriculum."
In the past, Madigan sometimes used ferrets to simulate the tricky maneuvers doctors must make to intubate infants in emergencies.
John Goodman, director of PETA's laboratory investigations department, said new doctors would be better served with lifelike simulators instead of four-legged animals.
"Using animals to teach human anatomy is like trying to get from Seattle to New York using a map of France," he wrote in a news release from PETA.
"Both patients and trainees will benefit from Madigan's new advanced, effective, and humane intubation training curriculum."