Maria Abaca, RN discusses how Washington University has ended its use of cat intubation to train medical students.
As both a registered nurse and animal advocate, I believe that it is unnecessary and in fact cruel for medical students to still be trained on intubation devices using live cats. It is indeed a victory for animal rights and medical professionals that this practice will finally be coming to an end as Washington University declared that it would finally stop using live cats as intubation training devices for its medical students. According to PETA officials, Washington University may be the last medical center to use live cats since the introduction of sophisticated mannequins for pediatric life support education.
Before the widespread use of mannequins, medical facilities commonly used cats for pediatric intubation training, since their upper airways and tissue are similar in length and delicacy as infant children’s. However, as the technology for manufacturing training mannequins evolved, many University medical centers began switching from live cats to life-like dolls, which are believed to actually provide more accurate simulation of the human anatomy. Moreover, Cindy Tait, the co-developer of the Pediatric Advanced Life Support Program, has voiced her disapproval of the use of live cats as training devices, saying, “Animals are not helpful because they possess drastically different anatomy from that of human infants, which can mislead course participants and give them a false sense of confidence in their skills.”
The cats used for intubation must often undergo as many as 15 intubation sessions in one day, approximately four times per year. These intubations, which are performed by amateurs, can cause scarring, tearing, and bleeding of the cat’s windpipe and, occasionally, even death. The cats at Washington University were held by the university for intubation training purposes for approximately three years before being adopted.
In April of this year, television icon Bob Barker offered the university $75,000 for pediatric intubation simulators if they stopped using cats.
The American Heart Association endorses the use of pediatric mannequins as intubation simulators. By abandoning the use of live animals, Washington University is finally in compliance with the accepted AHA guidelines.
Although PETA has protested the use of cats as intubation training simulators for several years, it wasn’t until an undercover video of the practice was released in April when the public was made fully aware of the practice. In the video, two cats are being intubated by medical students. The process is long and painful for the animals, and the tools appear to be mishandled in a way that nearly break the cats’ teeth. The cats even seem to wake up during the procedure, as they have not been adequately anesthetized.
Although it is undoubtedly true that the cats must endure unimaginable suffering so that medical students can drill life support procedures, it is also disturbing that this practice isn’t even considered acceptable in terms of honing a future health care professional’s skills. The placement of breathing tubes is extremely delicate; improperly administered intubation can cause the patient serious injury and compromise the medical procedures he/she requires. Pediatric intubation is even more difficult, since a baby’s tissues are so small and fragile. While it is true that pediatric intubation simulators are very expensive, the quality of the medical training must nonetheless come first. If a medical center’s goal is to provide the best and most advanced possible training, why continue to use a method that experts agree is outdated and improper? It seems that abandoning the use of cats for life support training not only benefits the animals, but also the students’ future patients, as well.
By Maria Abaca, RN