The Department of Wildlife Conservation at Great Eastern University received environmental biology and ecology grants from the National Science Foundation and other funding agencies. The associated animal use protocols often led to concerns for the school's IACUC. One issue involved euthanasia in field situations. The AVMA euthanasia guidelines1 state that in certain circumstances shooting an animal can result in less fear and anxiety and be more rapid, painless, humane and practical than other forms of euthanasia. The guidelines also specify that shooting is to be carried out when other approved techniques cannot be used, and then by highly skilled personnel who are trained in the use of firearms.
The IACUC routinely approved euthanasia by gunshot for medium and large mammals in the field, such as skunks, raccoons, foxes, coyotes and deer. When asked to specify the training obtained for this technique, a faculty member typically wrote, “I successfully completed the state's hunter education program.” This rationale was routinely accepted; however, a new IACUC member, Dr. Kirk Stevens, noted that he was a hunter education instructor and he would never accept a certificate from a hunter education program as an indication of competency to allow for euthanasia by gunshot. In all states, he argued, hunter education training was good for life, and given that the average age of hunter education students was 12 to 14 years, it was a stretch to assume that decades-old training was still effective. In addition, Stevens noted that some states don't even require a shooting test, and those that do commonly use a .22-caliber rifle, which is often not the same type of firearm that is being used for euthanasia. He argued that accepting hunter education training to signify that a person was 'highly skilled' with gunshot as a technique for euthanasia was wrong, whether the shooting was near or at some distance from the animal.
The other committee members recognized the logic of Stevens' concerns, but since Great Eastern had no firearm training program of its own, and the IACUC had never encountered problems with this approach in the past, the majority voted to continue the practice of accepting the hunter education program as adequate training. Larry Covelli, the IACUC chairman, later checked with the state's Department of Conservation and discovered that there was in fact a required shooting test for hunter education, but the requirement was to hit the target at least 15 out of 30 times (50% accuracy) and there was no training to assess whether a shot animal was indeed dead.
Do you think that the existing IACUC policy would be acceptable to the appropriate federal regulatory and oversight agencies? How would you approach this situation?
American Veterinary Medical Association. AVMA Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals: 2013 Edition. (American Veterinary Medical Association, Schaumburg, IL, 2013).