The $1.3 trillion spending bill Congress passed to avoid a government shutdown includes new rules to prevent the VA from conducting medical testing on dogs. This comes after a shocking investigation into the VA’s canine medical experiments over the last year.
Under the new rules, the VA cannot use dogs in research unless the use of dogs is the only way to meet study objectives. Even when these guidelines are met, the VA secretary must directly approve the study and report to Congress explaining why dogs are being used and why alternatives are not an option.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has been targeted since last year by the White Coat Waste Project for its use of dogs in medical testing. The VA defended its use of dogs by stating that the projects were strictly monitored and controlled and led to life-saving breakthroughs.
VA Secretary David Shulkin said canine medical experiments were responsible for the development of an artificial pancreas to automatically monitor blood glucose levels and administer insulin and an inplantable pacemaker. Critics contended that these examples are now decades old and most of the research the VA is conducting has not translated to human patients. Opponents also claim the VA is using outdated models that do not consider modern advances that offer alternatives to the use of canines.
An investigation by the VA’s Office of Research Oversight in 2017 revealed failed surgeries and dog deaths at a Virginia VA facility. Across the country, three VA facilities perform invasive experiments on about 300 dogs, including Beagle puppies, that include surgical procedures on their hearts, spines, and brains. Researchers conduct these tests to seek treatment for veterans with heart disease and other conditions. When the research is complete, the dogs are killed.
According to the investigation, researchers at the Virginia facility did not document whether dogs were treated humanely. Four dogs suffered complications from the experimental surgical procedures.
Last week, VA officials launched an internal review of its dog testing with a goal of reducing these medical studies, reversing its strong defense of the practice last year.
The addition of the new rules in the spending bill came after 53 members of Congress issued a letter to the House Appropriations Committee, urging them to cut taxpayer money for canine medical research under the new spending bill.