Animals rights activists have long criticized the Pentagon for the use of "live tissue training" namely, anesthetized but living animals -- in order to teach combat medical personnel how to treat gunshot wounds or severed limbs.
This week, the Defense Department must tell Congress how it plans to shift away from the use of animals, or justify continuing the practice.
Under Section 736 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013, the Secretary of Defense is required to submit to congressional defense committees no later than March 1 a strategy and timeline for a transition from using live animals in training for the treatment of combat trauma injuries.
The report must also include any risks associated with a potential reduction in the quality of medical care on the battlefield owing to an end to using live animals in training combat medical personnel.
The Washington Post reports this is the first time Congress has ordered the Defense Department to provide a detailed plan on how to rely less on animals and more on simulators, such as mannequins.
The military has used animals in its medical training since the Vietnam War, but in the mid-1980s protests against plans to subject anesthetized dogs to gunshot wounds led then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger to halt the practice with canines (though not with other animals, such as goats and pigs).
Over the years animal groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have called on the military and private groups to end such training with animals. Civilian training courses today often employ life-like simulators that mimic human reactions and spurt "blood."
"Congress now acknowledges that it is wrong to harm animals for crude medical training exercises if modern and superior alternatives are available," Justin Goodman, the director of laboratory investigations for PETA, told the Washington Post.
Last April PETA released what it said was a whistleblower video of a Coast Guard training session in Virginia Beach in which an anesthetized goat had its legs removed with tree trimmers.
As the Post's Ernesto Londono writes, however, some combat medics may not feel mannequins offer enough preparation. Former Army combat medic Michael Bailey, who served two tours in Iraq, told Londono that he froze when treating his first victim of an artillery attack in Kirkuk. Later he took an advanced course that included a sedated goat that had been slashed and was bleeding.
"You don't get that feeling of, 'This mannequin is going to die,'" Bailey told Londano. "When you're talking about keeping someone alive when physics and the enemy have done their best to do the opposite, it's the kind of training that you want to have in your back pocket."
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