A national health nonprofit, with around 12,000 doctor members, has installed three billboards in San Antonio that call for the Army to change its combat medic training by ending live animal use.
The billboards from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine are meant to shine light on a little-known aspect of military medicine, said Dr. Robert DeMuth, a former Army surgeon who came to San Antonio on behalf of the organization.
“They basically show a goat that has an Army uniform superimposed on it, and it's chewing on some straw. It basically says that goats make lousy soldiers,” he said.
At Fort Sam Houston, medics in training use goats and pigs as models to practice different procedures. In 2017, the Army Medical Department Center and School trained 2,409 soldiers using live tissue training.
“I think that the simulators provide much better training than the animals do,” DeMuth said. “The anatomy of a goat is very different than the anatomy of a person. When you put in a chest tube, a goat chest in not like a human chest. When you do some of these specialized lines that have to be placed in the ankle, you use bony landmarks to find where to put the line. A goat’s ankle is not the same as a human’s.”
Demuth said using the goats lead young medics to develop the wrong kind of muscle memory for the time-sensitive procedures they’ll perform on the battlefield.
He added that the relative cost of maintaining the animals — which includes making sure veterinarians are present during training activities — has to be considered.
"Sometimes they'll try to say, ‘Well, the goat costs this much and the simulator costs that much.’ But the thing you have to realize is that the simulator is reusable. When it’s done, it goes in a box. It goes on a shelf. With the goats, there's a far greater logistical cost," he said. "You have to feed them and maintain them."
Demuth said the animals also cannot be transported as easily.
Since 2009, the Department of Defense has invested around $16 million per year to provider simulation devices and products that assist combat casualty care training.
According to a statement from the Army Medical Department:
Currently, even the most advanced simulation systems cannot fully replicate the anatomy and pathophysiology of a severely wounded soldier. The Army continues to invest in the development of systems that meet these requirements. Until that time, those medics deploying to combat are trained using anesthetized animal patients under the supervision of a veterinarian.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine supports the BEST Practices Act, a bill that would give the military a timeline for phasing out live-tissue training. A spokesperson for the committee said she expects the bill to be considered by the House and Senate Armed Services Committees later this year.
Carson Frame can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @carson_frame