Complaints by a physicians' group that an anatomy course for some of Virginia's top high school students could lead to "moral indifference" has prompted the program to take down a Web site featuring students posing with pig intestines and fetuses.
Photos of students pretending to put pig intestines in their mouths and posing playfully with pig fetuses raised "serious ethical concerns" about the course called "Blood and Guts," the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine said in a letter.
The Web site featured images of students who were enrolled last year in the course, one of the most popular offerings at the Summer Residential Governor's School for Math, Science and Technology at Lynchburg College.
The Washington, D.C.-based physicians' committee contacted the Governor's School program Monday, as well as Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, to complain about the images and use of animal dissections in the course. The Web site was removed the same day.
However, the images were still on the physicians' group's Web site Wednesday, along with an appeal to members to write or call state officials with complaints.
Jim Koger, director of the monthlong program, defended the course and said the physicians' interpretation of the images was "biased and objectionable."
"They didn't ask any questions about what the course was involved with," he said, "but because (the pictures) offended them, we simply took the Web site offline."
"Blood and Guts" is an anatomy and physiology class that includes field trips as well as hands-on activities such as pig dissection.
In the letter, Dr. Jonathan Balcombe took issue with the dissections and asked that they be discontinued.
"Sociological studies have demonstrated that dissection encourages an attitude of such moral indifference that students commonly carry out vulgar mutilations on the animals by the end of the lesson," wrote Balcombe, a research scientist with the 100,000-member organization that encourages high ethical standards in research.
"This behavior is particularly distressing since these students are among the brightest in their high schools, and they intend to pursue medical careers. The barbaric, vile behaviors that 'Blood and Guts' incites bears no resemblance to the compassion required to be a doctor."
The "Blood and Guts" title appeals to students, Koger said, but added that they take the course seriously.
"None of the students have ever complained or felt that the course was a distressing one," he said. "I think they learned a lot from it."
In the letter, Balcombe noted that 85 percent of medical schools do not use animals in their curricula and suggested the Governor's School program switch to "state-of-the-art alternatives" such as models to replace dissections.
Koger said the program has a limited budget, and using alternative methods is not feasible.
"The software and the other 3D methods that are available are extremely expensive," he said.
The Summer Residential Governor's School is one of several programs, open to Virginia's top high school juniors and seniors, that are held annually at colleges and universities in the state.