Politics & Government

Stop training paramedics on live pigs, state lawmakers ask UW

A pig is shown in this 2008 photo from the Pierce County Fair in Graham. Several state lawmakers have reached out to the University of Washington in Seattle to ask the university to stop using pigs to teach paramedics how to create surgical airways.
A pig is shown in this 2008 photo from the Pierce County Fair in Graham. Several state lawmakers have reached out to the University of Washington in Seattle to ask the university to stop using pigs to teach paramedics how to create surgical airways. Staff file, 2008

It’s a procedure in which paramedics cut into a person’s neck to create an emergency airway.

And, at the University of Washington, prospective paramedics learn to do it on live pigs.

Now some Washington lawmakers want to end to that practice.

“Paramedics don’t need to cut open the throat of a pig when they have other options,” Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, said. “I would like to see the university take responsibility and to search out different ways to solve these situations.

“It seems to me that we need to be more considerate.”

Appleton is one of eight members of the House who signed a letter in January suggesting the UW consider “replacing animals with modern training methods.”

Also signing the letter were Democratic state Reps. Jessyn Farrell of Seattle, Strom Peterson of Edmonds, Judy Clibborn of Mercer Island, Cindy Ryu of Shoreline, Joan McBride of Kirkland, Joe Fitzgibbon of Seattle and Mia Gregerson of SeaTac.

The letter was addressed to UW President Ana Mari Cauce.

In response, the university is looking at “what our potential options are going forward with the program,” said Ian Goodhew, director of government relations for UW Medicine. The UW uses live pigs to teach both flight nurses and paramedics how to create surgical airways, a procedure known as a cricothyrotomy.

“Historically for this particular procedure, our trainers have determined that’s the best way to train,” Goodhew said of using live pigs.

“Obviously, simulation techniques have been evolving, and that’s why we’re going to take a look at the program, and what our current process is versus what we could use in the future.”

Each year, UW students practice their skills on about 20 to 40 pigs that are later euthanized, Goodhew said. The pigs are sedated during the procedure.

The logic behind using live pigs is that it better recreates the stress of performing the operation in the field, outside of a hospital, Goodhew said.

“We’re trying to train them in a real-world setting, where you have tissue and blood and have to deal with a real-life situation,” he said.

Yet some groups say medical simulators — essentially, advanced human dummies — are a better option. In a white paper for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine last year, three doctors argued the UW already has surgical simulators available that can train paramedics as effectively, if not better, than using live pigs. A survey by the group also found no other paramedic training programs in the Western United States use live animals.

Another study of medical technicians in the Canadian Armed Forces “found no difference in performance between medics trained on simulators versus live tissue models.”

“We’ve been doing it this way for years, but does that mean we should continue to do it?” asked Peterson, one of the lawmakers who signed the letter to the UW. “I think it’s an opportunity to take a look to see if there’s a better way.”

Goodhew said part of the UW’s review of its program will look at whether the new technology creates a learning experience similar to training using pigs. He said the university hopes to complete that review in the next couple of months.

Farrell, another lawmaker who signed the letter, said that’s good news.

“Pigs are highly intelligent, sensitive animals,” said Farrell, whose district includes part of the UW Seattle campus. “And if there are alternatives, we should absolutely be encouraging the UW to use those.”

 

Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209, @melissasantos1

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