Humane teaching methods: letters

Knight A. No need to kill to learn how to heal. Courier Mail [Brisbane]. 2008 (7th Aug.): 37.

Dear Editor,

As a competent and successful veterinary surgeon - who trained without harming any animals - I was disappointed to see the University of Queensland once again claim that veterinary surgical training requires killing healthy pound dogs. This is, of course, grossly incorrect. Numerous competent, practicing veterinarians, including at least one surgical specialist, have completed their training without killing any animals. We learn by practicing on models, cadavers of animals euthanized for medical reasons and donated for teaching (similar to human ‘body donation’ programs), and – most importantly – by assisting with beneficial surgeries on real patients, similar to the training of physicians. Animal shelter sterilisation programs play a major role. I helped establish such a program in 2000, when I was a veterinary surgical student in Perth. I gained around five times the surgical experience of my classmates who killed animals.

Nine academic studies have been published to date, comparing the surgical skills of veterinary students trained using humane teaching methods, to those achieved by harmful animal use. Three demonstrated superior learning outcomes, five demonstrated equivalent learning outcomes, and only one demonstrated inferior learning outcomes using more humane alternatives.

The relevant scientific Code of Practice – which is legally-enforceable - clearly states that animals may be used for teaching, only if no suitable alternatives exist. Accordingly, killing healthy animals in veterinary education is educationally unnecessary, ethically inexcusable, and technically illegal.

Dr. Andrew Knight
London, UK

Knight A. Humane teaching methods: evidence versus bias. J Amer Vet Med Assoc 2007; 230(11): 1622-1623.
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Knight A. Dog labs: money isn’t only reason to abolish. Daily Camera [Colorado] 2003 (4 Feb.).

I still remember the horror of the physiology labs that took place when I was a veterinary student.

Just like in those recently ended at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center ("CU halts last dog vivisections," Local News, Jan. 30), unsuspecting animals were anesthetized by barely competent students who then inserted tubes into arteries and veins and injected various drugs to observe the effects on blood pressure. In some cases arteries were blocked entirely. Students cut animals open and severed nerves to demonstrate the effects on heart rate, and forced their victims to breathe various gases to demonstrate the effects on respiration. One procedure involved blocking the air supply entirely. The lab guide instructed students to artificially respire the animals if they ceased breathing, but gave no instructions on how to do so. Not surprisingly, several animals died prematurely during this lab, and those who did not were killed at the end of the lab by lethal injections administered by these trainee "healers."

Out of sheer disgust at this completely unnecessary waste of life, I and some other students refused to participate in these laboratories, and instead demanded humane alternatives such as computer simulations, videos and non-harmful experimentation on student volunteers in order to demonstrate physiological principles. Just like those brave and compassionate students at Colorado who chose not to participate in these labs, we endured the harassment and sometimes less-than-subtle intimidation of our professors, including academic penalty.

Colorado is to be commended for finally ending the last of these labs. However, the school's apparent concern only with the cost savings, and its willingness to consider reintroducing these labs in the future, is not. CU should exhume and dust off its ethical standards and take a serious look at the large number of educational studies showing that students learning via humane methods learn at least as well, and should join the 82 percent of U.S. medical schools, including Harvard, Stanford and Yale, that have consigned these ethically and educationally indefensible labs to the dustbin of history.

DR. ANDREW KNIGHT, BVMS, Director of Education, Animalearn, Jenkintown, PA.