In a letter sent today to Duke, 552 physicians are urging the university to halt the controversial practice of using and killing animals to train medical students. The letter, spearheaded by the national medical ethics group Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, points out that no other medical school in the United States or Canada is known to kill animals to train students, and none has done so since 2016. Duke only reinstated the practice, in which invasive surgical procedures are performed on pigs, recently and has separately come under fire by medical training experts. To capture the university’s attention, the Physicians Committee has also taken out large “King Kong” ads on the sides of 15 GoDurham buses and has placed 20 ads around Durham Station that declare, in advance of Saturday’s men’s basketball game against the University of North Carolina, “Duke Already Lost.” The ads continue, “Winners Don’t Kill Animals to ‘Teach’ Med Students. UNCisWinning.org.”

The letter to Duke University School of Medicine Dean Mary Klotman, MD, refers to a time when medical schools regularly used dogs, pigs, and other animals, stating: “As medical students, many of us took part in training sessions in which animals were used and killed, but thankfully this practice has stayed in the past—until now.” It points out that UNC, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Johns Hopkins, and every other medical school in North Carolina trains students without animals.

Surgery faculty at Duke previously used human cadavers to train fourth-year medical students, but they stated in a 2023 paper that a cadaver “shortage” caused by the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated the use of pigs. The physicians’ letter to Duke notes that several surgery residency programs, a specialty training level after medical school, have replaced animals since 2020, when the pandemic began, including the Cleveland Clinic, the Medical University of South Carolina, and the University of Virginia, casting doubt on the surgery faculty’s claim. If Duke chooses not to use cadavers, its own state-of-the-art facility, the Human Simulation and Patient Safety Center, is equipped with devices known as simulators, which replicate human anatomy and physiology.

“Duke is better than this,” said John Pippin, MD, FACC, director of academic affairs for the Physicians Committee. “It has the resources to give its medical students a world-class education, and that means replacing animals immediately.”

For a copy of the letter to the dean or the ad artwork, please contact Reina Pohl at 202-527-7326 or rpohl@pcrm.org.

Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.

Contacts

Reina Pohl, 202-527-7326, rpohl@pcrm.org