Maine Medical Center has stopped using live animals in its emergency medicine residency training, just as a national nonprofit group was about to file a complaint about the practice with the federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine of Washington, D.C., argued the Portland hospital’s use of live animals – pigs, in this case – in emergency medicine training violated the Animal Welfare Act. The animals had been used to help train emergency medicine residents how to perform life-saving procedures, but the hospital will now use simulation-based technology, it said.

Maine Medical Center’s Emergency Medicine Residency Program has discontinued its use of live animals in the wake of a complaint from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

The act, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1966, regulates the treatment of animals used in research, exhibition and transport. It states activities involving animals should be designed to “assure that discomfort and pain to animals will be limited to that which is unavoidable for the conduct of scientifically valuable research.”

The law also requires the hospital to form an institutional animal care and use committee to “assess the research facility’s animal program, facilities, and procedures.”

Procedures involving animals, according to the law, “will avoid or minimize discomfort, distress, and pain to the animals,” and “alternatives to procedures that may cause more than momentary or slight pain or distress to the animals” should be considered.

“There are clearly better options out there, witnessed by 96 percent of the 270 emergency medicine residency programs using other methods beside live animals for their training,” Dr. John Pippin, director of academic affairs for the physicians committee, said in explaining why the organization was considering a complaint.

Pippin said the committee will not pursue its complaint because the program is no longer using live animals.

“We are grateful that with the information we gave them, leadership from the emergency medicine residency program and the chief academic officer sat down and looked at alternatives in an objective manner and decided they did have the available alternatives to end the use of live animals,” Pippin said.

A statement released Monday by the hospital said “following an annual internal review, Maine Medical Center has concluded it will deploy a simulation-based learning module to train emergency medicine residents on how to perform life-saving procedures.”

“Simulation-based training is used throughout our medical education programs, including emergency medicine training,” the statement continued. “MMC is unaware of any compliance issues regarding its use of animal subjects in medical training and a recent inspection by federal regulators confirmed that.”

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine formed in 1985 to encourage alternatives to the use of animals in medical education and research and to advocate for more effective scientific methods. An anonymous whistleblower noticed the Maine Medical Center program was using live animals and in February asked the committee to get involved.

According to the committee, as of May 30, Maine Medical Center was one of only 12 emergency medicine residency programs in the United States and Canada that used live animals. The others in New England were the Alpert Medical School of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and Dartmouth-Hitchcock/Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital in Lebanon, New Hampshire.