Editorial Blasts Vivisection at University of CO 3/6/2002
DO NO HARM
(Editorial in the Boulder CO Daily Camera)

Maybe it's just stubbornness and institutional pride, but given the gradual steps the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center has taken in recent years toward the important goal of eliminating its cruel and notorious "dog labs" for medical students, it's hard to understand what's to be gained by clinging to the practice. 

The dog labs, for those who haven't heard or who have heard only CU's propaganda are not about medical research. Not one scintilla of knowledge is contributed to medical science when students slice into living, anesthetized dogs. The procedure does not teach surgical technique, nor is it intended to. Practicing vivisection just so students can peer into body cavities, then euthanizing the dogs, is not just inhumane, but truly pointless. 

"I remember nothing of the physiological lessons taught that day," says Dr. Beverly F. Gilden, a CU alumna who now practices in Frisco, Colo. "What I have always remembered is a strange sense of disgust that this was felt to be necessary." 

And though the powers that be at the university won't say it, with each passing year they seem to stray a bit further from the rigid myopia that has kept this practice going for far too long. Last year, CU eliminated dog labs for renal physiology courses, replacing them with computer simulations (cardio and pulmonary vivisection continues, however). And the university says it no longer obtains dogs from suspect "Class B" dealers, some of whom have engaged in unethical practices and even stolen pets. 

Perhaps most importantly, for the first time this year, medical students must specifically sign up for a dog lab participation must be affirmative. Ironically, until recently, medical students who objected to needless killing were unceremoniously booted out of school. In recent years, they were forced to seek permission not to pointlessly carve up and kill a dog. 

Still, mindless devotion to the labs can be found in the most surprising places, including the Colorado Legislature and the CU Board of Regents. Neither body has been very receptive to dog lab opponents, who have the bulk of evidence on their side (and who will hold a candlelight vigil at 7 p.m. Friday, the first day of the 2002 labs, in front of the medical school, at 8th Avenue and Colorado Boulevard in Denver). Officials' dogged defense of CU's vivisection often echoes widespread misconceptions. 

"I would without a doubt sacrifice any dog I've ever had for the life of my grandchild," Regent Norwood Robb has said. 

Well, who wouldn't? But whether or not CU medical students cut open and kill dogs has absolutely no bearing on the survival prospects of Robb's, or anybody else's, grandchildren. To repeat: The dog labs engage in no research, and do not teach surgical technique. They are, at best, a kind of outmoded, gory voyeurism. 

Regent Peter Steinhauer, a retired oral surgeon, claims computer simulations just can't replace carving up dogs. Strange, then, that 94 of the nation's 125 medical schools have abandoned vivisection in favor of ... computer simulations. By the way, none of the top ten medical schools (as ranked by U.S. News & World Report, including Harvard, Johns Hopkins, the University of California, San Francisco and Stanford ... but not CU) uses vivisection to teach physiology. 

And Health Sciences officials continue to insist, despite the evidence, that there simply is no other adequate way to teach physiology. 

All these bloody excuses just don't wash, and CU's gradualist approach accomplishes nothing except to doom more dogs to cruel, gratuitous vivisection. The case for eliminating the dog labs is clear, compelling and urgent. 

It's time for CU's excellent medical school to quit fretting about its wounded pride and focus on teaching medical students according to the highest tenet of the Hippocratic Oath: Above all, do no harm.