The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine intensified its campaign against OHSU
today, a move calculated to coincide with the start of a lab it says is in violation of federal law by using live pigs in a medical school class.
As about 20 first-year medical students reported to the lab—“The Cardiovascular Response to Hemmorhage”—at 7 am, Dr. John Pippin, Matt Rossell, and two other local activists greeted them with flyers and a large banner encouraging them to express concerns about animal cruelty via a new PCRM hotline. The banner reads: “Med Students: Blow the Whistle on Cruelty, Report Animal Pain and Distress in Your Lab 1-888-6-TIP-USDA.” (Disclosure: The group also paid WW's advertising department $2,400 for a full-page ad in this week's WW)
While PCRM has been pushing for OHSU to discontinue the course—an elective that 92 out of 117 eligible students opted to take—since December, the decision to bring its beef directly to the classroom marks a new stage in the conflict.
“We are launching an investigation,” says PCRM spokeswoman Jeanne McVey, “because we heard about an incident that took place last year where a medical student [at OHSU] noticed that a pig was coming out from under anesthesia and was distressed.” PCRM only learned of the episode, which reportedly took place in 2007, very recently. “The incident was observed by one student who told it to another student and that student told Dr. Ersson [and Dr. Ersson told us],” McVey says.
But OHSU doesn't buy it. “I have never heard of this happening elsewhere and that has never happened at OHSU,” says spokesman Jim Newman of the distressed pig phenomenon. The pigs—about 16 will be used over the course of four lab meetings—“are heavily sedated before the class” and “are not aware of what is happening.” They are “humanely euthanized” when the students are through with them.
On Wednesday Dr. Pippin wrote the USDA to lodge a complaint against OHSU and to request federal inspectors come to the four lab meetings this month. According to Dr. Pippin, it is common for pigs to awaken—and suffer—during invasive procedures because they unusually difficult to anesthetize.
Since PCRM began its campaign, Newman says OHSU has received 1171 emails concerning the lab, which is part of a larger course titled “Systems, Processes and Homeostasis.” In the past two weeks alone, 368 people have emailed the Medical School.