Ending 'Abhorrent' Live Tissue Training Was Right: Coast Guard

A herd of goats grazes on overgrown vegetation. (U.S. Army/ Jeremy Nguyen)
A herd of goats grazes on overgrown vegetation. (U.S. Army/ Jeremy Nguyen)

The Coast Guard's decision to suspend its practice of wounding and triaging live animals in trauma training was the right one, Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft told members of Congress on Thursday.

In his first public comments on the matter since it was reported in April that the Coast Guard was suspending "live tissue training" for at least six months, Zukunft indicated the choice was ethical more than practical.

In the training, animals can be stabbed or shot to provide realistic practice for emergency medical training. After training is complete, the creatures are killed humanely.

"Like you, I found that -- quite honestly -- abhorrent in terms of meeting our mission requirements," he told Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, a California Democrat and outspoken critic of the practice, during a hearing before the House Appropriations Committee.

While the suspension has been framed as temporary to allow the Coast Guard to complete a six-month study of training alternatives, the admiral's remarks suggest the era of live tissue training has come to an end for the service.

The replacement trauma training will be simulation-driven, Zukunft said, and will most likely be a service provided via contract, just as the legacy live tissue training was.

"[The simulation] may be more expensive, but for us it will be the right thing to do to prepare our Coast Guard members who may be deployed to theaters where they may encounter traumatic injuries," he said.

Live tissue training has been used across the military services, a practice heavily criticized by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and other advocacy groups. In late 2014, Pentagon officials announced that the training would be significantly scaled back in favor of simulators.

In an opinion piece published by Roybal-Allard in The Hill on April 27, she praised the Coast Guard for its decision and cited a Defense Department-backed study that showed simulation-based training could be cheaper than live tissue training in the long run.

"The Coast Guard is taking a step in the right direction that I hope will lead to a permanent end to live tissue training," she wrote in the op-ed. " ... I couldn't be prouder of the men and women of the Coast Guard, who give us their best efforts every day. It's time for us to ensure that our Coasties get the best medical simulation training tools we have to offer."

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at@HopeSeck.

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