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Dissection: Cutting it out of Education
a special guest post from Jodie Weiderkehr of the Center for Ethical Science
Many years ago, I was a sophomore at a big, competitive high school and
I was facing my first biology unit that included dissection. I remember
our individual kits of sharp, shiny instruments, I remember our work
book, I remember being assigned into pairs, I remember our scruffy
science teacher with the beard and I remember the little fetal pigs
suspended in jars of formaldehyde, bobbing as if in slow motion, their
soft features formed in miniature, born dead. I was not a terribly
assertive person at this age – 15 – and I was not yet a vegetarian but
something about this unit and the absolute, unconquerable disgust it
summoned in me as our classes began, we were instructed to cut the
skin, remove organs, poke around, made me ask the teacher for some kind
of alternative. Every day as I’d go to class, I’d start to get a knot
in my stomach on the way down the hall before that first whiff of
formaldehyde even hit me but once it did, I was so dizzy and nauseated,
I felt like I was seasick. I can still smell it today.
One day not long after
the unit began, I met with the teacher and asked if there was any way I
could have alternative assignments that did not involve dissection. I
remember he scrutinized me pretty closely – was I just trying to get
out of work? Was I being a drama queen – and he asked me a bunch of
questions but he finally nodded. I was the first student to ask for
this provision, he said, but he thought that I could work on this
newfangled computer model he had to understand the anatomy they were
studying in the classroom. So each day, while the other students were
in the dissection lab, I sat in his office and learned where the
kidneys were, what the heart looked like. They resented me for this –
someone put a fetal pig liver in my backpack – but I got out and my
partner was assigned with another pair. Within weeks of beginning this
unit, I became a vegetarian, seemingly out of nowhere, but I really
think that the dissection unit set the stage.
While there is still a
very long way to go with this antiquated, cruel model of dissection, we
have also come far from my days in the 1980s of trying to figure out
what on earth I was going to do. I am grateful to people like Jodie Wiederkehr of the Center for Ethical Science
who is helping to move us beyond dissection and toward a more accurate,
humane and modern template for learning anatomy, and for helping
students who want to opt out of it. I wish I had an ally like Jodie
back in the day but short of that, I am happy she is available today to
help us finally evolve beyond this corrupt, inhumane and backwards
model. Before forming the Center For Ethical Science, Jodie worked
professionally in animal protection for thirteen years, including as
Signature Campaign Director with The Committee to Protect Dogs to help place the Greyhound Protection Act
on the November 2008 Massachusetts ballot. which ended greyhound racing
in MA. She also worked for two national anti-vivisection organizations
and SHARK. - Marla Rose
By Jodie Wiederkehr
Definition of biology: a natural science concerned with the study of life and living organisms.
What’s wrong with animal dissection you may ask? Well, many things, but mainly it’s:
• cruel • dangerous • environmentally hazardous • unnecessary
According to Jan Oakley, Ph.D., of Lakehead University, an estimated 10 - 12 million animals are dissected each year for classroom-based dissections in the U.S. alone.
• Millions of animals are bred to die (cats, mice, rabbits, rats, etc.)
• Class B dealers (Bunchers – stolen dogs and cats)
• Animals stolen from nature (dogfish sharks, earthworms, frogs, perch, turtles, etc.)
• Slaughterhouse and meat industry by-products (cow eyes, fetal pigs, sheep brains, etc.)
• Fur farm leftovers (mink)
Not only is animal dissection an obvious danger to animals, but it’s not safe for the students either.
“If you can smell formaldehyde* then you may have exceeded the OSHA action or exposure limits.”
US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Dissection gives youth the dangerous notion that animals are here for us to use and abuse.
• There is a direct link between cruelty to animals and violence toward humans
• Many harmful chemicals are used to preserve specimens
from a biology class at Oklahoma City’s Harding Charter Preparatory
High School, shows at least eight lab coat-clad students and one
apparent ‘conductor’ moving the feline cadavers in unison to music that
sounds like the popular Meow Mix cat food jingle.
Students bob the dead
animals up and down, line them up to fall down like dominoes and make
the lifeless creatures touch paws as if high-fiving.
Do you ever wonder how
animal experimenters get to the point where they can perform some of
the incredibly inhumane experiments we hear about such as stealing baby
monkeys away from their mothers after birth and subjecting them to
frightening situations or paralyzing three-month-old kittens, etc.?
When students are taught
from a young age that animals are here for us to cut up and learn from,
they slowly become desensitized, so it’s no surprise that a student who
is taught to enjoy dissection might grow up to enjoy vivisection
(experimenting on live animals).
• Sharp weapons
This may not seem dangerous, but with the amount of violence in schools, I think it should be taken seriously.
To supply dissection in
classrooms, millions of frogs are “harvested” and are returned to the
environment as chemical laden toxic bodies and body parts.
experiencing a precipitous decline across the globe, according to the
first comprehensive world survey of the creatures, which include frogs,
toads and salamanders. As many as 122 species have disappeared
since 1980, and 1,900 are in danger of becoming extinct.”
The Washington Post, October, 2004.
Two of the biggest purveyors of dead animal specimens are Carolina Biological and Ward’s Science.
99 percent of medical schools exclusively use human-relevant methods - not animals - to train future physicians.
Technology has advanced
so much that human-based medical simulators can easily replace this use
of animals. All leading medical schools, including Stanford and
Harvard, teach medical students without the use of animals so, there is
absolutely no need for elementary, middle and high schools to
continually be teaching an outdated and inhumane methodology just
because it’s what has been done for decades.
THE GOOD NEWS:
• Student choice laws/policies
• State-of-the-art tools
• Not required
STUDENT CHOICE LAWS/POLICIES:
There are many states
that have enacted student choice laws or policies. My home state of
Illinois passed a Student Choice Law in 2000. To see the latest news of
where your state is in terms of dissection choice laws, you can also check out this list on AAVS.
STATES WITH DISSECTION CHOICE LAWS OR POLICIES:
• NEW HAMPSHIRE
• NEW JERSEY
• NEW MEXICO
• NEW YORK
• RHODE ISLAND
• WASHINGTON, DC
STATE-OF-THE-ART TOOLS & COST-EFFECTIVE ALTERNATIVES:
There are numerous
online tools to learn the life sciences and many of these programs are
free. There are also lending libraries around the country that
lend models, software, manikins, videos, etc. that are free of charge.
When you take this into consideration, along with the constant
financial constraints most schools face, buying 20 -30 animal
specimens, along with all the laboratory supplies each semester, it
really adds up.
Here are a few
state-of-the-art online programs available to students and schools to
learn human anatomy, which is generally the goal of dissection:
Froguts Visual Dissections
McGraw Hill Anatomy and Physiology
Exploratorium - Cow's Eye Anatomy
There are many more online to use.
As the Physician's Committe for Responsible Medicine
(PCRM) says, “The National Association of Biology Teachers, the
National Science Teachers Association and the Human Anatomy and
Physiology Society all endorse and encourage the use of computer-based
dissection programs for all levels of science education.”
In a statement I was
sent from the National Student Nurses’ Association, Inc., in Nov. 29,
2000, “Students have the right to object to participation in cat
dissection without penalty but rather are provided an alternative to
fulfill the students’ responsibility to satisfy their educational
So, as you can see,
animal dissection is not necessary to excel in middle school, high
school nor is it required to get into college, veterinary school or
STEPS TO TAKE TO BE A CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR:
• Talk to the teacher/school as soon as possible – work on passing a student choice policy at your school
• Elevate the issue up the ranks if necessary (Teacher/Principal/Superintendant)
• Offer to borrow or buy some programs for the school
• If you live in a state without a law, meet and discuss the issue with your legislators – stress the savings to schools
• Contact me at the Center for Ethical Science (CFES) or Facebook or Twitter
Lastly, please remember
that it doesn’t matter if you live in a state that doesn’t have a
Student Choice Law because YOUR MORAL BELIEFS = YOUR ETHICAL BELIEFS =
YOUR RELIGIOUS BELIEFS.
Basically, how you live
your life constitutes your personal religious beliefs and this is how a
student will always win the right to learn humanely and not dissect or
vivisect an animal in school.
2015, Vegan Street