The United States of America is among the approximate 25% of the 28 nation members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) that actively use animals in military medical training¹. These much disputed trainings are called ‘live tissue trauma training ’(LTTT) or combat medic training. During these trainings, realistic trauma is enacted on anesthetized animals in order to emulate the types of injuries sustained on a modern warzone, and military medical personnel practice and apply life saving techniques to prepare for saving human lives on the battlefield.
Animals have been actively used for these trainings for countless years because the model has not yet become obsolete; and because of this, countless American and American allie lives have been saved because of the invaluable sacrifice these animals make.
Formal use of animals in military medical training came into fruition during the Vietnam War in 1955, and throughout the years has been molded into the tightly regulated training that it is today. Several laws have appeared over the years to advocate for the ethical use of animals including the Animal Welfare Act of 1966, Department of Defence Appropriations Act of 1991, and the Department of Defense’s Directive #3216.
All of which regulated the use of animals in laboratory settings and affording the animals limited protection, including eliminating specific animal species from certain procedures. In abstract, the ethical issue posed is this: Why are we continuing to use such controversial training exercises for our military medical personnel when we have the technology for human simulation we have today?
U.S. Army emergency medicine specialist veteran Richard McLellan argued that although these animals provide the intensity equated to the reality of war, the physical dissimilarities between animal and human pose as an issue of translation that he doesn’t find practical, especially with modern day simulation devices. Although these simulation devices that have realistic skin and warm blood that pumps through the veins are state of the art in mirroring human anatomy, countless military and civilian medics have stated that nothing comes close to a real living organism (most practices have included goats the last several years). Journalist Ernesto Lonodońo interviews Michael Bailey, a prior combat medic from the Army who served in Iraq two tours. He went to Iraq after taking basic courses not including the LTTT and excelled, but when he first treated a major injury after an attack, he was a deer in headlights and went blank. He later returned to taker more advanced courses and treated goats. Bailey compared the two- the dummies that were provided were accurate and effective anatomically; however, the goat exercise “provided a sense of urgency that only real life trauma can provide”.³
One theme was common throughout all the interviews with firsthand experience from military individuals. “Live tissue training prepares people for real world trauma.”⁸ An unnamed Air Force Pararescue Jumper (PJ) stated his experiences throughout his educational career were daunting. Training and medic school, practice on simulation mannequins (sometimes called partial task trainers), clinical rotations with ambulances and in emergency rooms for months, some programs include cadavers, and finally medical combat training on animals. The USAF PJ described the rigorous workload and schooling necessary leading up to the LTTT. USAF PJ’s have an 80% attrition rate along their career pipeline, meaning only a small fraction of candidates experience full completion of the program.⁵ Most medic candidates don’t see this extreme training scenario with animals until they are well seasoned and have cultivated extreme scenario surgical skills. Another unnamed interviewee who served as a combat medic with the US Army in Afghanistan and Africa discussed it as a right of passage. “it was actually highly talked about as a turning point for your skills and mentality as a medic- after doing it the first time, that was strongly reaffirmed.” In fact, LTTT is so integral that countries like the United Kingdom with laws completely forbidding the use of animals in this way send troops elsewhere to receive these vital educational opportunities.
The battle of simulators vs goats brings to light a standoff between personification and anthropomorphism. Specifically pretending a dummy is a person that you need to save, or feeling panic as you try to frantically save a goat from arterial hemorrhage (the most common preventable death of war. “You don’t get that feeling from a mannequin, you don’t get that feeling of this mannequin is going to die.”
Human empathy takes a large toll on this subject matter in that it demonizes the practice from an outsider perspective, but in contrast it adds to the emotion of the emergency training. Without the conveyance of true emotion and reverence given to the goat, the mental state wouldn’t transmit to the battlefield, rendering this type of training obsolete. The Army medic also added how “These interventions were realistic but still done with full respect and care given to the animal”.
Officials of the pentagon have been defending this specialized training for decades, aggressively emphasizing the medics necessity of this individualized and unique training, but also making sure the Department of defense are keeping regulations in order. Studies also show that the current survival rate is 92% of individuals wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, proving that the methods used in combat medic training are highly effective⁹ . The animals tend to come from farms or facilities where they are no longer useful and provided to help a great cause. The animals are also monitored by veterinarians and an anesthetic team during the trauma training. There are guidelines and protocol set to ensure that the animal is completely under the sedation and not experiencing any pain or discomfort, then humanely euthanized under heavy anesthetic before the end of the procedure. Goats, and ruminants in general also have the propensity to develop delayed medical issues from inhalant anesthesia.
Euthanasia is inevitable in order to protect the goats from any suffering (they would not want them to be forced to recover after surgical intervention). Both anonymous interviewees commented on the impressive care the animals received at the facilities and that they were comfortable before and throughout the procedure. The United States Department of Agriculture also closely monitors and investigates any instances of question, and a US Coast Guard facility faced full inquiry and were cited in 2012 under the Animal Welfare Act for not keeping up appropriate records of vitals and insufficient monitoring.
Our men and women in uniform risk their lives daily and make integral sacrifices for our freedom and safety here in the United States. Still to date, we have the most prepared and most advanced, well trained military personnel in the world.
Those individuals are responsible for our general safety, especially others serving in dangerous locations overseas, and they expressed their full gratitude at their fellow military that serve, including these animals. The small fractions of animals used for specialized training have helped to save countless people. And in closing, the military, and those they protect are intrinsically thankful for the animals and their service to our country.
In conclusion, human lives are inherently more important than animal lives. Combat medics need the best and most realistic training scenarios to save human lives, some of which involve the use of animals in a controlled and respectful setting. Therefore, animals should continue to be used in for these trainings.