PETA ‘expose’ continues fight against WU cat labs
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has redoubled its attack on Washington University’s use of cats after a student sent PETA video footage showing a class practicing medical procedures on cats.
The video, which PETA posted on YouTube Thursday, depicts cats being used for students to practice intubation in Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS)—a course designed by the American Heart Association for pediatricians and nurses. As of Sunday night, “Washington University Cat Intubation Laboratory: A PETA Expose” had almost 10,000 views.
Intubation involves inserting a tube into a patient’s throat to keep an airway open. The video shows Washington University students practicing the procedure on cats, which was the traditional way for students to learn intubation. But since at least 2005, the AHA has recommended the use of simulators instead of live animals.
Justin Goodman, director of laboratory investigation for PETA, said that upon receiving the video, PETA contacted the University twice asking it to reconsider its use of cats in the course. Goodman said the University requested the footage but did not offer to reconsider its policy.
He said Washington University is a final holdout in the national transition away from cat use in the PALS course.
“There were other facilities that were doing this until the last few years,” Goodman said. “All of them have been really reasonable. All of them, when brought the evidence of the superiority of simulators, have switched.”
Among the doctors Goodman mentioned were Dr. Tom Poulton, a pediatric anesthesiologist at the El Paso Children’s Hospital who also teaches anesthesiology at the Foster School of Medicine of Texas Tech University. Poulton said he pushed the University of Nebraska and Creighton University away from cat labs in the 1980s, when they stopped being necessary.
“Getting good at intubating cats does not make one good at intubating infants, in my experience,” Poulton said. “For a process that has not been shown to effectively train or save lives, my question is why would you do that?”
Poulton added that intubation is not a particularly difficult procedure, especially for students who have practiced and will be supervised by a practiced doctor while doing it.
“With tight supervision, it’s a relatively low-risk procedure for someone who already has lots of experience intubating a simulator model,” he said.
Dr. Robert Kennedy, director of the PALS program, has previously told Student Life that the only reason those recommendations are in place is because maintaining cat labs is expensive and sometimes objectionable. He noted that intubation is a difficult procedure and requires effective training.
Kennedy could not be reached for comment on the video.
In an email to PETA, Timothy Williams, director of training center operations and quality for the AHA, said the AHA does not endorse or require the use of animals during the PALS course because of the utility and availability of simulation mannequins.
Goodman said the University’s stance is clearly not supported by the AHA or the general scientific community.
“Even people who don’t oppose animal experimentation agree that if there’s a superior alternative to using animals, they should be used,” Goodman said. “There’s no evidence that using animals is improving anyone’s skills. It’s completely unjustifiable.”
“It really comes at the expense of animals, trainees and their future pediatric patients who depend on them for their care,” he added.