January 14th, 2008 5:33 pm | by Jeremy Gillick News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP, Schools

When Pigs Fly

PCRM pig billboard

A national animal rights group, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, has spent $3,500 to place a billboard in downtown Portland criticizing OHSU for using pigs in a medical school class.

The billboard, located at the intersection of SW 13th and Alder, reads “First, Do No Harm: Stop the OHSU Medical School Live Animal Lab.” The text alludes to the Hippocratic Oath, an ancient ethical code that specifically prohibits doctors from harming “man,” as OHSU spokesman Jim Newman points out.

Many physicians consider the oath outdated.But that misses the purpose of the billboard, says Dr. John Pippin, a PCRM spokesman. Pippin says his group put up the ad to engage the public—not to quibble over technicalities or even ridicule OHSU.

“We have been disappointed that the substantive issues related to live animal use have not been addressed by OHSU,” he explains. If the school would “take an honest look” at its program, he thinks, it would find it “archaic.” He hopes the billboard will alert Portland's public—which he believes is particularly progressive—and that concerned citizens will then write to OHSU to complain.

Newman says he has gotten 25 complaints from Portlanders since the billboard went up at the start of January—22 letters and three phone calls.

About 75 percent of students opt to take the class, an elective, which Newman contends is neither cruel nor illegal. As far as Newman knows, no OHSU students have complained about the school's use of animals.

In the past, Newman has questioned PCRM's credibility, citing a 2004 Newsweek article that linked the group to PETA and estimated that less than 5 percent of its members were physicians.

But Pippin says his organization was founded by physicians and scientists. He maintains that OHSU is one of only 10 medical schools in the country, and the only school west of the Mississippi River, that still uses live animals in classes.

PCRM hopes that OHSU will eventually agree to phase live animals out of classrooms. And there's a recent precedent. On Dec. 7, following a similar dispute at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine in Ohio, Dean Pamela Davis issued the following statement: “As the school continues to revise and implement a new curriculum over the next year, we have committed to not using dogs, cats or ferrets in our instruction. We are working to eliminate the use of all live animals.”
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