WASHINGTON • Deep in Tennessee near the Georgia border, the University of Tennessee College of Medicine in Chattanooga sits in the shadows of the nation's more prominent medical schools. But now, it is in the news for being the last in the United States to end the use of live animals to teach surgical skills to students.
A few days ago, the college quietly marked the end of the controversial practice, and by extension its elimination in the US and Canada.
"Effective immediately, the University of Tennessee College of Medicine Chattanooga has ceased to provide surgical skills training for medical students using live animal models," dean Robert Fore wrote to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which has fought the practice for more than a decade.
Professor Fore said UT Chattanooga will follow nearly 200 other medical schools in the two countries that now rely on surgery simulation and other technology that has rendered the use of dogs, cats and pigs obsolete.
Johns Hopkins Medical University Medical School ended its use of live pigs for laboratory classes only a few weeks before the Tennessee school.
Animals that were used by schools to teach students how to apply anaesthesia, remove organs, make incisions, find a large vein and other procedures were routinely destroyed when the lessons were done.
"It's a watershed moment," said Dr John Pippin, a retired cardiologist and director of academic affairs for the physicians committee. "For anyone who went to medical school in years past, it was a rite of passage, often a disturbing rite of passage, to use a dog or cat or another animal in medical courses."
According to Dr Pippin, the medical school in Chattanooga used 300 pigs per year to train students, but the committee has no idea how many lives will be spared by the termination of the practice because in most cases the death records were not kept.
"It gets animals out of harm's way and it allows medical school students to learn they can be great doctors without harming animals," he said.
"The best you can say (is) many thousands of animals a year that would have been killed to train medical students will not be (killed now)."
The elimination of live animal surgical training by medical schools comes slightly more than a year after the National Institutes of Health quietly ended the US federal government's long and controversial history of using chimpanzees for biomedical research.