Baby pigs on the farm
Credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved

Reasons Why Classroom Dissections Should be Limited

Animal dissections are practiced in various different academic settings, however, it is typically a science unit introduced during a high school biology course. AnimalLearn, a website dedicated to "animals, ethics and education", reports approximately 6 million vertebrate animals are dissected annually in just U.S. high schools. 1

Imagine how much higher that number would increase if colleges were included in statistics? Allegedly animal dissections occur in middle and elementary schools too (I've never seen the latter though). If so, these numbers can be factored in as well. That is a lot of animals being dissected each year. The New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS) indicates about 20 million animals per year are dissected in the United States. 2

Many sources indicate it is hard to pinpoint an exact figure, especially if global numbers are added to the U.S. statistics. While the practice of dissection is prevalent in the United States, there are a few other countries also engaging in dissection as well. Some countries are phasing it out and others have now banned it completely.

With the possibilities modern technology offers, why are animals, such as frogs, pigs and cats - to name a few - still being raised, caught or sold, only to be killed for the purpose of dissection?

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Does Dissection Serve a Purpose?

In this day and age of technology, I can't help but question why and if animal dissections really serve any real viable purpose in most classrooms? Selling animals, raising them for profit or capturing them from their natural habitats, only to sentence them to death in a cruel way is senseless and wasteful.  Do high school students (or any other age) really gain much by engaging in dissection, especially if they have no intention or interest in pursuing a science or medicine educational path, and are only taking the class in order to fulfill required education credits

They way I see it, students falling into this category do not have any need to understand an animal's inner structures and processes through hands-on experience. Or do they?

When is Dissection Relevant?

Proponents of the practice claim it provides a wider scope of understanding of an animal's body and organ structure, which is different than looking at it through other forms of learning. This could be a valid point. It can also be argued there may be some relevance at the college level for those majoring in medicine or science and need (or preference) to obtain "hands-on" training to fully understand an animal's anatomy.  However, for the rest of the population it is really essential? Especially if students have a moral objection to it?

Development of Personal Values

The majority of students performing dissections are old enough to have their own personal values devloped and, by this age, are living by their own moral compasses. Many students are against animal dissections, and / or do not have any intentions to pursue a scientific-based curriculum or career field. Yet they are still forced to perform dissections under a threat of a failed or lower grade if the assignment is not completed (I had this lovely experience myself in the 10th grade).

For those who feel it is ethically wrong to take animals for the sole purpose of killing them for exploratory procedures, this is an atrocity. In many high schools, students are forced to dissect a worm and frog, and a number of them get angry at the fact they are forced to commit an act they feel is wrong. What is our society teaching our children when we place demands on students and force them to act against their own moral judgment? And not allowing them to think for themselves when it comes to ethical issues?

1987 Apple commercial featuring Jennifer Graham, the first student to legally take on dissection & students' rights.


Alternatives for Non-Science Majors

Students not pursuing science or medical interests could easily learn what they need to know within the pages of a textbook. If academia is so adamant the real thing must be experienced deeper than through the pages of a book, why not implement computer software to provide simulation or use synthetic animals for this purpose? Technology could easily more than provide adequate learning tools for this purpose.

Artificial products developed today have such realism and, as with computers, virtual reality today has made huge strides into becoming a true reality. Just look at how realistic so many video games are, in theory why can't this apply to dissections?  Even clay models could serve as an option as to opposed to the real thing. Any of these alternatives could provide all the tools necessary to allow students not majoring in science to understand an animal's internal organs and structure.

student doing a dissection
Credit: Evan-Amos/listed as Public Domain in Wikimedia Commons

Alternate options to dissection are available, but schools do not utilize these options. Instead they prefer to continue to kill defenseless animals. Wouldn't artificial means be a better option for the majority of educational dissections? Both alternate methods of learning can be performed and even reused over and over, unlike all the little critters whose lives are taken unnecessarily and then callously tossed away. This kind of practice is a blatant lack and disregard for life. What does that teach our kids?

Animal dissections should be scaled back and limited to those academic areas that need to have in-depth knowledge and experience. The way I see it, this barbaric practice should be banned at all other levels, or at least optional. There is no good purpose for a dissection to occur on or below the high school level and there should be limited usage on the university level.

The good news is currently 17 states and the District of Columbia have laws or policies that allow students to opt-out of dissections in the classroom if they have an objection to performing one. (However, the question begs asking, how often are students informed of this option?)

What do you think about animal dissection in how it pertains to learning? Is it a valuable science lesson or is it an antiquated practice now that alternatives are here?  If there is value, which students should be engaging? Should it be limited or should it be all inclusive in a school's curriculum?