Posted by: animalvoice | October 8, 2009

Cutting out Dissection

     I still remember that fall day in junior high when I walked into our science lab to start our dissection rotation. We dissected earthworms, grasshoppers, clams and oh yes, eventually the infamous frog. To this day, I still can’t eat a clam. I mean who knew that you ate all the inside organs when you ate a clam??? I surely never even imagined it. But that was just the beginning of my education.

     The poor frog was the worst. We wore our smocks, goggles and gloves and brandished our gleaming new scalpels and cut into the frog. We spent about a week on that poor pitiful frog. We learned about the muscles, tissues, and organs etc. There was more out of the frog by the time we were done than was left inside.

     We thought we were finally done with Fred, that’s what our team lovingly named him. But we were sadly mistaken. The next day when we entered the lab we were met with the most putrid smell I’ve ever had the displeasure of smelling. It was formaldehyde; lots of boiling pots of it. We were instructed by our teacher to drop our frogs into the boiling pots so that the formaldehyde would remove the rest of the carcass of the frog leaving only the skeleton. If I ever had any plans to eat frog legs, they were boiled away that day.

     After what seemed like forever, using tongs and pot holders we pulled our frogs out of the vats of water. Low and behold our poor Fred was a mere skeleton. Then we were instructed to let Fred dry out overnight. Then the next day we glued him, well what was left of him onto a piece of construction paper. We then dutifully labeled all the bones on the skeleton, put our individual names on the group display and ta-da we had finished our science project for parent night, the following week.  

     At the time I wanted to be a doctor so the dissection didn’t really bother me. I had always been an animal lover but in my naïveté I didn’t think of these animals as animals. I owned cats and dogs but never a frog. When it came right down to it, I didn’t have compassion for the frog. It wasn’t until I got into college and took classes where we worked on rats that I truly evolved in my thinking to realize that what we were doing and had done was wrong. But that will be the subject of an entirely different blog entry.

     Back then it was the eighties and students had no choice in the matter. My only choice was to not take gross anatomy in college since it involved first a fetal pig followed by a cat the following semester. That was where I drew the imaginary line in the sand. To those of you who know me and follow this blog, you know that I’m “MOM” to three cats that are truly my “KIDS” in every sense of the word. The idea of dissecting a cat just sent me over the edge and was a huge part of my decision to NOT go to medical school. I went to law school instead. I’m still not sure how much better of a decision that was, but at least no animals were harmed in the earning of my degree.

     But TODAY children and parents have a CHOICE about dissection in schools. Did you know that you have a right to ‘refuse to dissect animals in New York’? And New York is not alone in this endeavor. California, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia also have similar laws.

     New York State Education Law section 809(4) gives students the rights to say “NO” to cutting up animals in NY:   “Any student in a public school expressing a moral or religious objection to performing or witnessing the dissection of an animal SHALL BE PROVIDED with the opportunity to complete an altenative project WITHOUT PENALTY. The student’s objection must be substantiated in writing by the student’s parent or guardian. Experiments on live animals is forbidden.” (emphasis added)

     AND even better, October is ‘Cut out Dissection’ Month, with a number of websites providing documentation and pamphlets for parents and students to voice their objection to dissection. Of course PETA leads the way with a number of articles and pamphlets located at www.peta2.org/cutoutdissection/cutoutdissection.asp .

     Since I realize that some folks find PETA to be too radical, I also recommend some over very good sites, starting with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) website with an entire dissection campaign located at www.hsus.org/animals_in_research/animals_in_education/dissection_campaign_packet.html. HSUS also has a ‘Student Choice in Biology Education: a Policy Guide’ to assist school districts in drafting student choice policies.

     Suite101.com has great articles at http://educationalissues.suite101.org.com/print_articles.cfm/dissection_choice; or www.animalearn.org/dissectionandvivisection04.phpand finally the Physicians Committee on Responsible Medicine (PCRM) website has www.dissectionalternatives.org/concerned/welfare.cfm.

     To those of you parents out there who wonder if it really is a big deal I did some research for this blog to see exactly how big of a deal it is. Every year six million animals (including frogs, cats, and fetal pigs) are cut up in classrooms around the country – even though humane alternatives exist. 28 out of 29 studies conducted have shown that students who use alternatives to dissection perform just as well – if not better – than students who cut up animals.

     Paul Comeau’s article “Dissection Choice in the Classroom: Supporting Students Rights to Choose or Object to Dissection in Class” is posted on the Suite101.com website. I would highly recommend any parent interested in this subject to read that article.

     Mr. Comeau states that “dissection choices, or more accurately a lack thereof, affects students in virtually every school across the country that has a science or biology class. Standardized curriculums for the majority of these biology courses require the students to dissect an animal. It is a major component of the course, with a grade weighed heavily on such participation. This weighing of a grade acts as a coercive force in silencing students who might object to dissection for fear of it negatively affecting their grade.” (Emphasis added)

     The Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association (HSVMA) has developed an Alternative to Dissection Database containing thousands of alternatives to animal use in education.

     HSUS offers the Humane Education Loan Program (HELP), a free service that lends CD-ROMS, videos, models and charts to students and teachers interested in alternatives to dissection. Just for fun I checked their list and found that their alternatives include such animals as earthworms, clams, grasshoppers and frogs. All the animals I dissected all those years ago.

     PCRM did a survey and found that “a school with five biology classes, for example, purchases 35 bullfrogs per class per year which costs around $1300.00. By contrast purchasing the ‘Digital Bullfrog’ CD-ROM requires a one-time layout of just $200.00.” So assuming the school didn’t use HSUS’s free services, it could save a lot of money with the alternative methods to dissection. With the economy in such dire straits, think of the impact this cost savings could have on school budgets.

     As far back as 2004, a study of high school students found that as many as 90% of the students felt that they should have a choice regarding dissection. School principals and districts have found these students to be ‘annoying, difficult and rebellious teenagers. These students in all actuality are expressing an awareness of the suffering endured by animals during capture, handling, trapping and/or killing as well as the decline in the wild kingdom population in part because of dissection exercises.’

     Mr. Comeau in his article states “forcing students to participate in these barbaric practices discourage some…students from pursuing careers in science.”

     There is also a negative psychological impact on young students who participate in dissection. In fact, studies have shown that dissection can “desensitize some students fostering attitudes of indifference and callousness towards animals.” Dissection sends a harmful message that animal life is expendable. And everyone knows about the link between child abuser of animals is likely to lead to an adult abuser of animals and humans.

     Another factor that impacts this debate further is the number of high school students that are vegetarians. An article in USA today states that 1 in every 200 students are vegetarians. If these kids won’t eat animals, do we really want to force them to dissect the animal?

 “In the pursuit of education, curiosity shouldn’t kill the cat.” (Paul Comeau)

In Memory of Fred

In Memory of Fred

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