Should med students practice tracheal intubation by sticking a plastic tube down a kitten's windpipe? Washington University's School of Medicine is one of the last pediatrics programs in the country that says "yes."
This morning animal rights activists -- in town for a national convention -- stood outside Wash. U's main campus to draw attention to the school's somewhat-antiquated program that trains pediatric students to force open an infant's airways. That program is called "Pediatrics Advanced Life Support" or PALS.
Nowadays most of the top 50 pediatrics programs in the country use simulator dolls to teach students the procedure.
A spokesperson for Wash. U's Medical School says that while using live cats to practice intubation may not sound pretty, it does enhance a student's confidence and skills.
"Students report a cat gives them a better opportunity to visualize vocal cords that are moving and to learn to coordinate intubation with the animal's breathing. They also report greater confidence to deal more adequately with infant and pediatric emergencies," read the statement from spokeswoman Joni Westerhouse. [Full statement below]
But activists on the corner of Skinker and Forest Park Parkway say there are no real learning advantages to using cats, instead of simulators (which are available to Wash. U. students at the Children's Hospital) and they are upset that the university has been unwilling to speak with them.
Peter Young, who served two years on domestic terrorism charges for freeing animals from various Midwest fur farms, says Wash. U. has been "inviting escalation" from activists, who will break laws to protect animals.
"They're practically begging for it," says Young, "just from the way they've been so flagrant about ignoring us."
Young, a 35-year-old from the Pacific Northwest, describes himself as an "unapologetic supporter of those who work outside the law to achieve human, earth, and animal liberation"... so watch out, Wash. U. (even though you were apparently never worried).
Tino Verducci, an Italian activist against speciesism, made his first trip to the United States this week to attend the conference that focused primarily on animal testing. Verducci is responsible for drawing attention to animal abuse at Green Hill Lab, a beagle-breeding farm that was finally shut down by police in April after nearly a decade of fire from animal rights groups.
Verducci says that in his native Italy, you can get 3,000 maybe even 10,000 people to come out to a demonstration for animal rights, so he was surprised to see just 20 or 30 people show up outside of Wash. U. this morning.
"The number is not important," Verducci says. "One person with a banner can make a difference."
One of the demonstration's organizers, Laura Shields (co-founder of St. Louis Vegan) said the group chose to protest in front of the university's Danforth Campus for greater exposure, even though the cat intubation occurs at the medical school in the Central West End.
"This is such an easy campaign to win," Shields says, of the effort to end cat intubation at Wash. U. "People have cats at home. To imagine someone restraining your cat, opening their mouth and cramming a tube down it, must really upset a lot of people."
Indeed, Young says that from an animal rights perspective, ending cat intubation is "like low-hanging fruit for us."
Full statement on PALS from Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine, on the next page: