Doctors, advocates protest UW Med's use of ferrets in training

Doctors, advocates protest UW Med's use of ferrets in training »Play Video
SEATTLE -- In front of the sprawling University of Washington Medical Center, there quiet outrage about what's happening inside, led by a group of physicians.

"Virtually no one else does this. This is the only university in the western U.S. that still does this, and one of only six percent of pediatric programs in the entire country," said cardiologist Dr. John Pippin.

He's talking about medical students using ferrets in the hospital's pediatrics program. Tubes are put down the throats of the small animals while they're alive but anesthetized as a part of a training procedure called endotracheal intubation.

Ferrets are chosen because they're very close to the size of premature babies. And for some, the use of these small animals is heartbreaking.

"They show depth of personality. I've seen them grieve over the loss of a friend. Anything that grieves is showing depth of personality and character," said Michael Fitzpatrick of Ferret Shelter Northwest.

Those against the animals being used say there are incredibly life-like, simulated babies that offer a better, more humane option.

"Science and technology have advanced to the point where simulators can do a better job, or at least a job equivalent without animals suffering," Fitzpatrick said.

But UW Medicine disagrees, saying its physicians decide what methods are best to train its doctors.

"We use simulation, but we use the ferrets as well because it's alive, and it gives more of realistic feel when they're doing the intubation techniques," said UW Medicine spokesperson Tina Mankowski.

Those who have long been protesting the use of ferrets say until it stops, the university is practicing bad medicine.

"There are strong legal incentives not to do that. The animal welfare act specifically specifies that a research institution must use an adequate, non-animal models if available, and that's a major problem," said Dr. Robert Stagman, head and neck surgeon.

The doctors who were part of Thursday's protest say they'll deliver a petition signed by more than 100 pediatricians to the university in an attempt to get the school to to stop the use of ferrets in training.