Pigs as Teaching Tools on Grey’s Anatomy

Last Thursday, Grey’s Anatomy depicted the use of live pigs for medical training. I watch Grey’s Anatomy, but I have a love-hate relationship with the show, and I was not responding with love last week. You know how I love pigs.

At the same time, I was glad that Kathrine Heigl’s character, Izzie, took a strong stand against using animals in training and research. She spoke articulately about the new technology available in lieu of using animals as well as the fact that animal and human physiology are different enough that experiments performed on animals may not generalize to humans.

Today, I received an email alert from the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine which discussed the episode and revealed that, due to Heigl’s influence, PCRM was invited to comment about the use of animals in medicine and provide much of the research from which Izzie’s dialoge was drawn. I appreciate the producers’ and writers’ open-mindedness and praise Heigl and the PCRM for standing up for animals.


From the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine

Dear PCRM supporter,

Last Thursday night’s episode of the television hit Grey’s Anatomy featured a subplot in which live pigs were stabbed, and then interns and residents were told to treat the injured animals as part of a trauma training exercise. (Note: No real pigs were used in the filming of the episode.)

Nancy Heigl, PCRM supporter and the mother of actress Katherine Heigl, who plays Dr. Izzie Stevens on the show, contacted us when the story line was being developed because the actress was disturbed by the subplot. PCRM president Neal Barnard, M.D., and PCRM senior medical and research adviser John Pippin, M.D., F.A.C.C., both had extensive conversations with the producers of the show about the overwhelming trend in medical education to use simulators instead of animals in medical education.

This input from PCRM staff was invaluable in helping the writers modify the program and develop Dr. Stevens’ character. When the episode aired, viewers saw her refuse to participate in the training exercise and take a strong, informed, and vocal stand against the practice. As a result, millions of viewers were exposed to our position against the use of animals in medical education in one of the season’s highest rated television shows.

Our thanks go to Nancy and Katherine Heigl for involving PCRM and to the producers of Grey’s Anatomy for giving PCRM the opportunity to bring a dose of reality to this prime-time drama.

You can view the episode online at: http://abc.go.com/primetime/greysanatomy/index?pn=index

While most advanced trauma life support courses around the country use human simulators, many continue to use live animals, including courses at Idaho State University (ISU). In fact, ISU uses lost and stray dogs obtained from the local animal shelter for these lethal procedures. Please help these animals by writing to the president of ISU. Click here for more information.

We would also like to hear what you thought of the episode by taking our very brief survey.

Best regards,
Hope Ferdowsian, M.D., M.P.H.
Director of Research Policy

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