Animal Writes
10 May 2000 Issue
Student's Rights - Dissection

As a graduate student nearing the completion of my Masters program at Towson University in Maryland, as well as an Eagle Scout, I am appalled to learn of the systematic violation of students' rights at Vassar College. These rights are clearly protected by the free exercise clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, nor abridging the free exercise thereof." The U.S. Supreme Court has explicitly held that a religion need not strictly adhere to the dictates of an organized coalition, but may equally be defined by an individual. Whether or not a student identifies her/himself as a member of an organized religion, her/his sincerely held moral, ethical or religious beliefs are protected by the aforementioned clause, thereby mandating that every academic institution in the U.S. respect this personal belief system. It behooves Vassar College as an institution of higher learning to honor the moral convictions of the students who pay their tuition to attend your school, and pay your salaries. Private institutions are equally responsible for adhering to students' civil liberties so long as they receive any public funding. How can you call your school a "liberal" institution while unconstitutionally requiring them to dissect and vivisect animals in Biology and Psychology classes?

Students enroll in college to learn how to think critically, not to be indoctrinated into archaic and fraudulent rituals, disguised as mandatory methodology. If your institution is worthy of any respect and tuition funds, you have no justification for an "all-or-nothing" approach. College should not be a fascist dictatorship where we march in lockstep to our authority's every command. So-called "alternatives" to academic dissection and vivisection have been widely available for many years. The Ethical Science Education Coalition in Boston, Massachusetts, publishes a thick catalogue with hundreds of practical, comprehensive replacements for the traditional "death science" approach. Biology is the science of life, not death. The time is long overdue for Vassar College and other similar institutions to understand this simple fact.

Had I been presented some of these alternatives as an undergraduate student at Hofstra University 6 years ago (as well as in high school), I conceivably would have performed far better in my laboratory exercises than I did, since biology was always my strongest natural science discipline. My entire set of career choices would have been different, as I may have gone to medical school thereafter, rather than pursuing a liberal arts program. How many more compassionate, gifted students must sacrifice the opportunity to pursue a life-saving occupation, in the true tradition of the Hippocratic oath, simply because their schools force them to violate their own sincerely held moral, religious or ethical beliefs? Students must not be coerced to learn material by exploiting animals. "Alternatives" are generally less expensive, more time-efficient, and more humane. Vassar College must adopt a choice policy for dissection and vivisection now, lest you continue to violate the U.S. Constitution by infringing on the free exercise clause. Conscientious objection is no less relevant to killing other species than to humans.

David L. Fishman, M.A. Candidate

Towson University

Lifetime Member

National Eagle Scout Association

Source: [email protected] 

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