Animal Writes
20 February 2000 Issue
Learning To Heal Without Causing Harm 

Boulder Camera - November 14, 1999

Rapidly increasing pressure against the use of animals in education is generating growing interest in the development and use of non-animal alternatives ("alternatives"). For responsible educators, the Three R's - Reduction, Refinement, and Replacement are guides. Reduction alternatives use fewer animals. Refinement alternatives lessen animal pain and distress. Replacement alternatives don't involve live animals. These include computer, clay and plastic models, videos, CD ROMS, and mannequins.

In the United States, about 170 species, including at least 10 million vertebrates, are used annually for education. Many come from underhanded Class-B dealers, and include stolen animals and those obtained from auctions, pounds and unidentified "random sources." Many schools require or pressure students to dissect dead animal specimens, or to vivisect live animals. Frequently, students don't express their objections to animal use and many don't know there are numerous alternatives readily available ( ; ; Often, students are given short notice about labs or aren't told about alternatives. Ridicule, humiliation and intimidation from peers and teachers coerce many students to dissect or vivisect. They fear consequences of resisting tradition. Often they have to face school administrators, an unnerving experience.

Supporters of dissection and vivisection frequently claim "hands on" experience on animals is essential to education. However, there's no evidence this is so; their claims are based more on tradition than facts. What about dogs and future doctors? Medical school dog labs generate much controversy ( Currently, more than one-half of American medical schools, including such prestigious institutions as Harvard, Yale, Columbia and Stanford, don't use live animals to teach students. Alternatives are offered in 125 of 126 medical schools. Similar trends are developing in veterinary schools ( 

Why do dog labs continue at CU's medical school? Dr. Ron Banks, the Health Sciences Center veterinarian, claims alternatives to dog labs are ineffective: "Until we find a good replacement, we have chosen to use dogs." (Colorado Daily, 7-9 May, 1999) But, there are very effective alternatives. Students at Harvard observe procedures in operating rooms that incur no extra costs. Listening to lectures, viewing videotapes or using CD ROMS such as SimBioSys also conveys information in more humane and cost-effective ways than learning human physiology or pharmacology on dogs. In one study, 110 medical students rated computer demonstrations higher for learning about cardiovascular physiology than demonstrations using dogs. Many studies show equal knowledge or equivalent surgical skills are acquired using alternatives (  Often alternatives are more effective and they're invariably less expensive. More CU (and other) medical students choose to opt out of dog labs each year, but often there's pressure to participate although the labs aren't required. Thus, the labs aren't truly unconditionally optional in that some students feel pressured and intimidated. The American Medical Student Association condemns pressuring students who choose not to kill animals. Since the labs are optional, one must ask if they're really essential. Many professors say "no." Also, having completed dog labs isn't a prerequisite for practicing medicine at CU's Health Sciences Center or elsewhere. Clearly, dog labs aren't essential.

The sources of CU's dogs are also suspect (Colorado Daily, 27 October 1999). Students are often told the dogs who will be killed are condemned animals from local pounds. However, many come from a class-B dealer whose business has been under investigation. CU admits they buy dogs from this dealer and other "random sources." Large numbers of dogs (122) and other animals are involved, including more than 26,000 rodents, 240 rabbits, 146 sheep, 65 pigs and 20 primates.

What can you do? Question time worn tradition. You'll be in good company. Charles Darwin reportedly left medical school because he was "repulsed" by dog experiments. He wrote of a man who experimented on dogs: ". . . unless he had a heart of stone, [he] must have felt remorse to the last hour of his death." You can always request alternatives. Gary Francione and Anna Charlton's book, "Vivisection and Dissection in the Classroom: A Guide to Conscientious Objection," provides useful guidelines. These include: know how far you're willing to go to assert your right not to engage in vivisection or dissection; raise your objection as soon as possible; be prepared to discuss why you object; be ready to present one or more alternatives; document everything; if necessary seek legal help early and organize your network of support.

Increasingly, students are seeking out alternatives ( Questioning how medical (and other) science is taught isn't to be against science, anti-intellectual or "radical." Rather, better and more responsible education will result. Many excellent schools are turning away from animal labs.

Dissection and vivisection aren't all they're cut out to be. It's not essential to kill animals to learn about life. There are always ways to improve education and provide compassionate alternatives to cruelty. Caring for other animals doesn't mean not caring about people. Indeed, using dogs when there are better non-animal educational alternatives is a disservice to future doctors and patients alike. The art of healing can be well-learned without harming.

Marc Bekoff teaches in Environmental, Population, and Organismic Biology at CU-Boulder. He left a graduate medical program because he didn't want to kill dogs or cats.

November 14, 1999

<> <> <> <> <>

Copyright 1999 The Daily Camera. All rights reserved. Any copying, redistribution, or retransmission of any of the contents of this service without the express written consent of The Daily Camera is expressly prohibited. Users of this site are subject to our User Agreement, you may also read our Privacy Policy. Comments? Questions? Suggestions? E-mail us at [email protected].

Go on to
Return to 20 February 2000 Issue
Return to Newsletters

** Fair Use Notice**
This document may contain copyrighted material, use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owners. I believe that this not-for-profit, educational use on the Web constitutes a fair use of the copyrighted material (as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law). If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Home Page




Your comments and inquiries are welcome

This site is hosted and maintained by:
The Mary T. and Frank L. Hoffman Family Foundation
Thank you for visiting

Since date.gif (991 bytes)