COLUMBIA, S.C. — The emergency-medicine training program at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine violates federal law by using live animals, according to a complaint filed Thursday by a doctors group that seeks alternatives to using animals in medical education and research.

In a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine claimed that the institution is violating the federal Animal Welfare Act. In a training program at its Columbia campus, the group said, the medical school instructs trainees to cut into live pigs to insert needles and tubes, and to spread the ribs to access the heart. After the training session, the animals are killed.

The letter is the result of a two-and-a-half-year attempt by the group to get the medical school to change its practices, according to Dr. John Pippin, director of academic affairs for the Physicians Committee. After approaching various officials at the school, including its chair of emergency medicine and the dean, the group went to the USDA with its concerns.

“They’re accustomed to doing it this way,” Pippin said. “But we feel that, although they’re entitled to their opinion, they’re not entitled to their own version of the facts.”

To Pippin, the use of live animals is not only unethical, it’s not the best way to train new physicians. Pigs have thicker skin and thinner limbs than humans, meaning that doctors aren’t getting accurate training using animals anyway.

“After you practice on a pig, when you go to humans, you have to change it all around,” he said. “Compared to the use of a human cadaver or compared to the use of simulators, it’s not as good.”

In a statement, the school says its use of animals is in accordance with all laws and industry policies and that a recent USDA inspection found no deficiencies.

“The use of animals in the training of emergency-medicine physicians is limited to a very small number of circumstances which cannot be adequately replicated by simulation experiences,” the school said.

The animal rights group has previously challenged the use of live animals at other schools, including earlier this month at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.


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