The basic rationale behind animal experiments is that lives can only be saved by sacrificing others(15). The use of animals in medical training inevitably reinforces this primitive view with the danger that doctors may become desensitized to suffering in their human patients. It is reported that Canadian neurologists who chose to spend a year of their training experimenting on animals, had so hardened themselves to animal suffering that they were incapable of recognising suffering in their patients for quite a while after returning to clinical work(16).
The use of animals is not only undesirable but unnecessary, and in the United States, animal laboratories are no longer required by any civilian medical school for teaching purposes. In some of these medical schools the use of animals is optional; in others the procedures have been discarded altogether. Surgeons traditionally learn their basic skills by work with human bodies in the mortuary, then by observing senior surgeons at work, and finally by operating under the close supervision of experienced colleagues.
In the case of microsurgery, pioneering work at Britain's Frenchay Hospital in Bristol has led to the development of the normally discarded human placenta as an alternative to animals(17). The placenta contains tiny vessels which can be sewn together as a means of practice.
Animals are sometimes used to illustrate the effects of drugs but there are many sophisticated video recordings and computer simulations which can be used instead. Such alternatives can give a higher standard of learning performance than work with animal tissues(18). Ultimately whatever "alternatives" are available , medical students will acquire far more relevant information by the careful observation of human patients, as Hippocrates taught.
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