Dissection Is Dangerous, Unethical, and Unnecessary—Here’s Why
Animal dissection is an archaic technique designed to explore anatomy from a time when humans knew very little about the insides of animals. Scientific discoveries advance our knowledge of the functioning of the natural world, but the antiquated practice of dissecting millions of animals every year hasn’t changed in a century. Advances in technology and an increasingly progressive understanding of animal sentience have exposed animal dissection as obsolete, dangerous, and unethical.
There’s no educational value to making students cut into animals’ corpses, but the many benefits of humane, non-animal instruction—such as digital dissection—are well documented. Dozens of peer-reviewed studies show that dissecting animals is bad science, whereas, when students use modern methods, they learn faster and are able to repeat material until they’re proficient. Studies also show that students prefer using humane alternatives such as interactive simulations and anatomical models. Dissecting animals has been shown to dissuade some students—especially females—from entering science-related fields, and some students are uncomfortable speaking up because of fears of potential ostracism from peers or teachers. A growing majority of young people are opposed to animal experimentation and dissection in educational settings. Many states have recognized students’ right to reject these lessons in cruelty by implementing dissection-choice laws and policies.
The act of cutting open an animal—a misguided but often sanctioned classroom activity—teaches children that living beings are disposable and downplays the fact that they were once alive and, in most cases, killed exclusively for these exercises. This is a very dangerous lesson, especially with the increase that we are currently seeing in incidents of cruelty to animals perpetrated by juveniles and an epidemic of school bullying.
In addition to the dangers of desensitizing students to animals’ suffering, the animals used for classroom dissection are often preserved with harmful chemicals, such as formaldehyde and formalin. Formaldehyde is used as a preservative and also found in cigarette smoke—it’s classified as a human carcinogen, and repeated exposure to low levels may cause respiratory difficulty, eczema, and skin sensitization. Inexpensive and in wide use, it is an effective fixative that is not entirely eliminated through rinsing.
There’s a Better Way—Modern Technology Exists to Replace Animal Dissection
Educators at all levels are increasingly choosing alternatives to animal dissection to meet their students’ needs. These modern teaching methods—including interactive computer simulations and clay models—save animals’ lives, are suited to all students, and cost less and are more effective than animal dissection.
Methods such as narrated software programs with physiology animations or clearly labeled anatomical models allow students to learn more efficiently, without being distracted by the gore of cutting up dead animals and the struggle to distinguish the discolored body parts. Unlike dissection, in which each body system is ablated and displaced and must be discarded at the end of the lesson, alternatives allow the systems to be studied and virtually “dissected” repeatedly until students feel confident with the material.
Here are a couple of digital dissection programs that are effective and highly interactive:
Froguts online subscription service includes the following: frog, squid, sea star, cow eye, owl pellet, fetal pig, and Mendelian genetics labs. Students have the opportunity to use digital dissection tools and a microscope, collect experimental data, and complete quizzes. The dissection modules are organized by body system, and each is thoroughly explained.
Digital Frog is a downloadable program that integrates comparative anatomy, frog dissection, and ecology. Students are able to review each body system with high-quality animations and digital dissection. In addition, Digital Frog offers a field trip series that includes unique desert, wetlands, and rainforest instruction.
Expandable Mind Software is a web-based suite of simulated dissections and physiology experiments that are highly interactive and aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards. Modules are available for purchase individually and include studies of Mendelian genetics and the anatomies of 10 different animals, including frogs, three types of fish, several invertebrate species, fetal pigs, and cats. Mini labs include various physiological simulations, such as respiratory rate, muscle contractions, and the effects of drugs on heart rate. The software may be accessed on any device with an Internet connection.
Cogent Education boasts a suite of interactive case studies for biology, providing captivating scenarios that effectively engage students in their learning. Students play the role of a professional scientist tasked with solving a real-world problem. The modules cover topics such as homeostasis and action potential and are recommended for both beginning and advanced students. Shifting the focus from anatomy, the cases encourage students to view the organism as a whole, while explaining detailed physiological processes in a unique and engaging way.
Check out this page for more digital dissection resources.
How Teachers Can End Dissection
Teachers are in a unique position to effect change both in their own classroom and throughout their school. Meeting curricular goals without harming animals is a win-win situation for students, teachers, and schools. Long gone are the days of dissecting formaldehyde-laden animals and stuffing live fish into 2-liter bottles. Rather than defaulting to archaic animal experiments and crude dissection, educators are (and should be) seeking creative and inspired ways to teach biology.
Because medical schools in the U.S. no longer use animals to teach students and incoming students aren’t expected or required to have experience with dissection, using humane alternatives will better prepare those entering medical school. And of course, there is no shortage of images and videos posted on social media of students misbehaving with and disrespecting animal cadavers. Replacing all animal labs in the classroom is a great way to avoid these callous displays.
How Teachers Can Help Animals
Pledge not to use animals in your classroom. Share information with your students and fellow staff members about your decision to use humane alternatives.
If your school is using animals as teaching “tools,” voice your objections. If you’re comfortable doing so, write a letter to or have an open conversation with the staff members involved. Explain the cruelty inherent in dissecting and experimenting on animals, the many risks involved, and the harmful message that using animals in the classroom sends to students.
You can even write a letter to your principal and school board asking them to implement a policy banning animal projects in the district. Be sure to include all the pertinent information, and feel free to contact us if you need any assistance.
How Parents Can End Dissection
Parents have an important responsibility to ensure that their children are taught using the most effective methods and that educators are incorporating humane education principles in the classroom. Using non-animal science lessons teaches children to value humans and animals, builds prosocial behavior, and is consistent with character education initiatives.
How Parents Can Help Animals
If your child’s school is using animals as teaching “tools,” voice your objections. Let your child’s teacher and/or principal know that your child will not be participating and urge the school to replace animal dissection with superior, modern alternatives. Explain the cruelty inherent in dissecting and experimenting on animals, the many risks involved, and the harmful message that using animals in the classroom sends to students.
Discuss with your child’s teacher and/or principal your view that helping animals should be part of the school’s program to build character in students. Share your knowledge about character education laws and the epidemic of youth violence against animals.
Let your child’s teacher know about TeachKind, including our willingness to provide lesson resources and support.
Urge local school board officials to ban animal dissection. If your state has a dissection-choice law requiring teachers to offer humane alternatives, ensure that your community schools are in compliance.
How Students Can End Dissection
Many empowered students are taking a stand against animal dissection before it takes place in their classes, and teachers need to hear from you!
“You don’t learn anything about an animal by cutting it up,” said Laurie Wolff, a Las Vegas grade school student who successfully petitioned the Clark County School Board to draft a student-choice amendment providing students with alternatives to dissection. “It’s a waste when there are so many other ways to learn about science without having to kill something first.”
Baltimore student Jennifer Watson, who was taken out of an honors class when she asked for an alternative to cat dissection but was allowed back in after a protest prompted officials to reveal that she was entitled to an alternative, explained her actions simply: “I’ve loved animals my whole life. I was standing up for what I believe in.”
Ashley Curtis failed a lab exercise in her Minnesota school when she refused to go to class on the day when dissection was scheduled. She said, “I don’t think any animals should go through any suffering for education.”
How Students Can Help Animals
In high school? Use peta2’s interactive map to find out what your state’s laws say about dissection—you might have the option to opt out!
Even if you don’t have a law in your state, peta2 can help you talk to your teacher about getting a humane, non-animal alternative.
In college? E-mail [email protected] for information on opting out of dissection and taking action against animal experiments at your school.
Pledge to End Dissection Today!