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PETA launches campaign against OHSU for using live pigs in surgical training

The drive, which includes a letter-writing campaign and ads, follows one by a physicians group over the use of live animals
Oregon Health & Science University primarily trains its OB/GYN residents at OHSU Hospital and the Center for Women’s Health in southwest Portland. | COURTESY OHSU
March 9, 2023

Three months after a national physicians group pressured Oregon Health & Science University to stop using live pigs in its surgical training for residents, an animal rights group is taking up the torch with a new angle.

PETA – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – sent a letter to OHSU last week saying it would inform its 9 million members and supporters if the university didn’t immediately stop using live pigs to train obstetricians and gynecologists. A PETA official told the Capital Chronicle it is launching a campaign against OHSU on the issue.

“PETA will examine every option and pursue a full-court press, including protests at OHSU, engaging donors and alumni, as well as running ads, to make sure administrators are hearing our message loud and clear at every turn, namely to stop the cruel mutilation of pigs during OHSU’s OB/GYN residency training and switch to superior animal-free models,” Shalin Gala, PETA’s vice president of lab methods, told the Capital Chronicle. 

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine planted billboards around Oregon Health & Science University over the use of pigs in surgical training.

In December, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a Washington D.C.-based group that advocates against the use of animals in research and for a vegan diet, waged a campaign against OHSU for using pigs in surgical training. The group planted billboards around OHSU’s southwest Portland campus on Marquam Hill and one on Southeast Powell Boulevard.

It also filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees primate centers in the U.S. The agency has not conducted an inspection, said Dr. John Pippin, director of academic affairs for the committee.

Pippin said its campaign is ongoing.

“We are asking again for OHSU to end the use of animals for surgery resident training, thereby joining four-fifths of 262 surveyed U.S. surgery residency programs,” Pippin said in an email.

PETA also called OHSU an outlier. 

“The overwhelming majority of accredited universities have abandoned live-animal training,” PETA said. “Programs such as the ones at Rush University and Aurora Sinai Medical Center use advanced, human-relevant simulators, which are equal, if not superior, to training on live animals. Even the U.S. Department of Defense has banned the use of animals for OB/GYN residency training and several other medical education areas since 2014, stating unequivocally that ‘suitable simulation alternatives can replace the use of live animals.’”

OHSU declined to answer questions from the Capital Chronicle about the surgeries and the number of pigs involved. Spokeswoman Sara Hottman said in a statement that the surgical training with the pigs is “essential to ensuring future surgeons have the knowledge and skills necessary to provide safe, high-quality care.” 

Without citing specifics, she said other surgical training programs worldwide do the same.

“OHSU only uses animal models in its surgical training program when nonanimal methods are inadequate or too dangerous for human participants,” Hottman said. “We look forward to a time when surgical training methods are capable of faithfully modeling the complexity of a living system; however, technology currently does not exist to recreate some of the most complex procedures surgeons must regularly perform in humans, such as managing critical internal complications.” 

PETA has been working on the campaign for more than a year. In October 2021, it requested records from OHSU about the use of pigs and sent two letters and two emails to OHSU starting last April asking it to stop the practice. The fourth was sent last week.

OHSU never responded, PETA said.

According to the group, OHSU has trained at least 64 OB/GYN residents in surgeries on 48 live female pigs, and between 2019 and 2021, held five OB/GYN training drills on live pigs. PETA said documents it obtained showed they dissected their organs and performed other operations, later euthanizing the animals.

PETA is asking supporters to sign electronic messages to OHSU opposing the use of the pigs. More than 32,000 people have signed them.

OHSU receives state funding primarily for its education and training programs, which includes a medical school and residency training. OHSU has more than 900 physicians in 94 different residency and fellowship programs covering a variety of specialties, Hottman said. They include It 28 OB/GYN residents in a program that lasts four years.

The OB/GYN training includes lab simulations on the use of forceps, breech delivery, fetus rotation and more. The pig training is part of the curriculum, according to OHSU’s website.

The use of the live pigs is not illegal under USDA rules, but both groups consider it unethical.

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: [email protected]. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.