"Has not the contribution of the laboratory to the surgery of the stomach, for example, been almost negligible when it has not been potentially dangerous because divergent from human experience and therefore inapplicable."
To some extent, the surgeons' fears had been incorporated into British legislation controlling animal experiments. The 1876 Cruelty to Animals Act forbade the use of animals to practice surgical skills and for the next 110 years (49) British surgeons learned their craft in the only sensible way, by work with human bodies in the mortuary, then by observation of senior surgeons during actual operations, and finally by taking over under the close supervision of experienced colleagues. Most significantly, this is reinforced by Dr J. Markowitz, author of Experimental Surgery (1954), who wrote: "the operative technique described in these pages is suitable for animals, usually dogs. However, it does not follow that it is equally and always suited to human beings. We refuse to allow the student the pretense that what he is doing is operating on a patient for the cure of an ailment."
Nevertheless, the Cruelty to Animals Act did give surgeons the option to use animals to develop new techniques.
The opinions of surgeons who rejected animal experiments for the development of new operations cannot be dismissed today as irrelevant. The crucial issue is the underlying physiological and anatomical differences which make animal experiments hazardous. This is reflected in the almost universal failure of the first human transplant operations, despite extensive animal research.(33) Only after considerable clinical experience did techniques improve and survival rates increase. At Stanford University, for instance, 400 heart transplant operations had been carried out on dogs, yet as cardiac surgeon Dr Albert Iben pointed out, the first human patients died because of complications that had not arisen during preliminary experiments.(40)
A Wartime operations: Historically, the battlefield has proved invaluable in developing new surgical techniques. According to the Wellcome Museum of the History of Medicine, surgery for wounds of the chest and heart became a relatively common procedure during World War II with the result that many of the fundamental skills of heart surgery were developed.
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