MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A national physicians group says it is time for Hennepin County Medical Center to stop using live animals for medical training.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine wants a federal agency to investigate the Minneapolis hospital’s use of 450 sheep and rabbits.

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It claims that advances in training make procedures on live animals unnecessary.

Only a dozen of the 125 medical schools in the country still use live animals to train physicians in medical procedures. HCMC is one of them.

“I honestly don’t know why they haven’t switched yet, I assume it’s oversight,” said Dr. Matthew Clayton, a retired surgeon.

He says using living animals, like rabbits and sheep, to demonstrate medical procedures is both unethical and unnecessary.

That is why the Washington-based PCRM criticized the hospital Thursday for continuing the practice, saying that better alternatives exist.

“You can make a mannequin stop breathing, heart stop beating, all with a little controller, and people can do procedures that feel more realistic than an animal,” Clayton said.

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PCRM’s letter points out that artificial simulator models and mannequins are equal to or superior to animals for medical training. And as a physician who has performed surgery, Dr. Clayton says it is much more realistic.

HCMC responded to the criticism with a written statement, saying it is long term goal is to “eliminate the use of animals in medical training.” It also claims the hospital “leads the way in developing and testing simulation technologies.”

Hospital spokesperson Christine Hill added, “HCMC is continuing to reduce the use of animals,” and, “there are a few critical, lifesaving procedures that can only be reliably taught in an animal model.”

Regions Hospital in St. Paul also trains emergency physicians, but uses all human-based, simulator training. That is a move Dr. Clayton and his group urges HCMC to adopt.

“It probably will offer better training and certainly be more compassionate to the animals,” he said.

Clayton says the group is not affiliated with any animal rights group like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

He added that many of the group’s doctors are committed to a vegan lifestyle and oppose any unnecessary animal testing or research where alternatives exist.

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PCRM is asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to enforce the Animal Welfare Act, and investigate the hospital’s animal practices.