Dissection: Lessons in Cruelty
Dissection is the practice of cutting into and studying
Every year, 5.7 million animals are used in secondary
and college science classes. (1) Each animal sliced open and discarded
represents not only a life lost, but also just a small part of a trail of
animal abuse and environmental havoc.
Frogs are the most commonly dissected animals below the
university level. Other species include cats, mice, rats, worms, dogs,
rabbits, fetal pigs, and fishes. The animals may come from breeding
facilities which cater to institutions and businesses that use animals in
experiments; they may have been caught in the wild; or they could be stolen
or abandoned companion animals.
One of PETA's undercover investigators at one of the
nation's largest suppliers of animals for dissection was told by his
supervisor that some of the cats killed there were companion animals who had
"escaped" from their homes.
Slaughterhouses and pet stores also sell animals and
animal parts to biological supply houses.
PETA investigators documented cases of animals being
removed from gas chambers and injected with formaldehyde without first being
checked for vital signs (a violation of the Animal Welfare Act).
(Formaldehyde is a severely irritating caustic
substance which causes a painful death.) Investigators videotaped cats and
rats struggling during infusion and employees spitting on the animals.
Depleting the Ecosystem
Frogs are captured in the wild to stock breeding ponds
because populations die out if not replenished. A completely independent
frog colony has never survived long without the introduction of "outside"
In their natural habitat, frogs consume large numbers
of insects responsible for crop destruction and the spread of disease. In
the years preceding India's ban on the frog trade, that country was earning
$10 million a year from frog exports, but spending $100 million to import
chemical pesticides to fight insect infestations. (3) In addition, economic
losses in agricultural produce were heavy.
Today, Bangladesh is the main Asian market for frogs,
and in the United States, scientists have noted severe declines in frog and
toad populations that they blame on the capture of these animals for food
and experiments, as well as on causes of general environmental decline such
as the use of pesticides and habitat destruction. (4)
Killing Compassion Along With the Frog
Classroom dissection desensitizes students to the
sanctity of life and can encourage students to harm animals elsewhere,
perhaps in their own backyard. In fact, serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer
attributed his fascination with murder and mutilation to classroom
In the last interview before his death, televised on
Dateline NBC, Dahmer stated, "In 9th grade, in biology
class, we had the usual dissection of fetal pigs, and I took the remains of
that [pig] home
and kept the skeleton of it, and I just started
branching out to dogs, cats." According to Dahmer, he enjoyed the excitement
and power he experienced when cutting up animals and fantasized about
cutting up a human body.
Students with little or no interest in pursuing a
career in science certainly don't need to see actual organs to understand
basic physiology, and students who are planning on pursuing a career in
biology or medicine would do better to study humans in a controlled,
supervised setting, or to study human cadavers or some of the sophisticated
alternatives, such as computer models. Those who are rightfully disturbed by
the prospect of cutting up animals will be too preoccupied by their concerns
to learn anything of value during the dissection.
Students Speak Up
More and more students are taking a stand against
dissection before it happens in their classes, from the elementary school
level on up to veterinary and medical school. In 1987, Jenifer Graham
objected to dissection and was threatened with a lower grade. Jenifer went
to court to plead her case and later testified before the California
legislature, which responded by passing a law giving students in the state
the right not to dissect. Jenifer's mother and the National Anti-Vivisection
Society have set up a hotline for students who want to avoid dissection.
Since Jenifer's case, thousands of students have opted
to study biology in humane ways, and many schools have accepted the
students' right to violence-free education.
Students and teachers may choose from a wide range of
sophisticated alternatives to dissection. The typical science "lab" at many
schools now emphasizes computers rather than animal cadavers.
Computer programs such as VisiFrog, available from
Ventura Educational Systems (910 Ramona Ave., Suite E, Grover Beach, CA
93433: 1-800-473-7383), can be used as either a lesson or a test.
Programs include an identification game and a
self-quiz, covering topics such as frog musculature, cardiovascular system,
and respiratory system. As of this writing, the system costs $59.95.
Operation Frog, made by Scholastic, Inc. (2931 E.
McCarty St., P.O. Box 7502, Jefferson City, MO 65102; 1-800-541-5513), costs
$79.95 to $99.95, depending on the type of software. It simulates an actual
dissection on the computer.
The Cambridge Development Laboratory (86 West St.,
Waltham, MA 02154; 1-800-637-0047) has a selection of educational software
for the Apple II, Commodore 64, and IBM PC for elementary through college
level classes in biology, botany, physiology, and more.
Many books also offer humane science lessons. The
Anatomy Coloring Book and The Zoology Coloring Book, both published by
Harper & Row, Inc., (10 East 53rd St., New York, NY 10022) are appropriate
for high school and college students. These books are available in many
bookstores for $10.95 and $11.95, respectively.
Most non-animal tools and lessons last for many years
and cost less than maintaining a constant supply of animals. Because
computer methods allow students to learn at their own pace, they have proved
to be as good as, and often superior to, dissection as a learning tool.(5)
University of Virginia professor Mabel B. Kinzie
compared students who used the interactive "frog" videodisc she developed
with those who cut up real frogs. She found that students using the computer
program learned anatomy just as thoroughly--in an environment that didn't
reek of formaldehyde or require killing a living being.(6)
Every Student's Choice
Whether you are a student, a parent, or a concerned
taxpayer, you can act to end dissection in your town's school system. If you
are expected to perform or observe a dissection, talk to your teacher as
early as possible about alternative projects.
Call the NAVS dissection hotline,1-800-922-FROG ,
for tips on what to say and how to proceed. If there is an animal rights
group at your school or in your community, ask them to help.
Parents can urge their local Parent-Teacher Association
to ask the area superintendent of schools or school board to consider a
proposal to ban dissections in public schools or at least give all students
the option of doing a non- animal project. It may help to collect signatures
on a petition and to present the school board with information on the
cruelty and environmental destruction caused by animal dissection and on
readily available alternatives. If you can, arrange to show PETA's video on
biological supply companies, "Classroom Cut-Ups."
Get your school to drop dissection--it's deadly.
National Anti-Vivisection Society, "Objecting to
Dissection--A Student Handbook" (53 West Jackson Blvd., Suite 1552, Chicago,
IL, 60604; 800-922-3764), 1994.
Ethical Science Education Coalition, Frog Fact Sheet
(167 Milk St., #423, Boston, MA, 02109-4315; 617-367-9143), 1994.
Jayaraman, K.S., "India Bans Frog Trade," Animal
Welfare Institute Quarterly, Spring/Summer 1987.
Booth, William, "Frogs, Toads Vanishing Across Much of
World," The Washington Post, Dec. 13, 1989.
"Comparative Studies of Dissection and Other Animal
Uses in Education," The Humane Society of the United States, 1994.
Orndorff, Beverly, "Computer Program Is a Frog Saver,"
Richmond Times-Dispatch, April 5, 1994.
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