Animal Writes
From 13 June 2004 Issue

The Absurdity of Dissection
by Katie Vann - [email protected]

A weary high school student stands, scalpel in hand, over the corpse of a creature who once breathed and felt emotions such as joy and sadness. The student is then instructed to dissect the remains of this creature. As the scalpel is lowered to the flesh, the little, if any, knowledge gained from this experience is overtaken by the insurmountable loss of something far greater: the human conscience.

The violent and outdated method of teaching science through animal dissections in high schools and universities is not just wrong; it's absurd. Dissection attempts to advance an individual's knowledge at the expense of human character. It desensitizes youth and for some, may cause lasting emotional damage. It discourages education, and it is disrespectful towards individuals who have deeply held religious and moral beliefs of nonviolence towards animals.

The Humane Society of the United States estimates that twelve million animals are dissected each year in high schools across the US. Frogs, fetal pigs, and cats are among the most common animals dissected. Many ethical issues are being raised concerning the businesses which supply dissected animals. Some animals are inhumanely raised at breeding facilities while others are caught in the wild or are stolen companion animals.

Life is life. All living creatures experience the same emotions. All creatures have the capabilities to feel happiness as well as suffering. Dissection desensitizes students to the sanctity of all life. It devalues non-human forms of life and teaches violence. We live in a world where we have seen the effects teaching violence has had, and we should therefore make the connection and put forth a greater effort to instill in today's youth lessons in kindness. In an interview with the news program Dateline before his death, serial killer Jeffrey 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." To some, cutting up an animal may give the dissector a feeling of excitement and power which can lead to a deeper fascination with killing, as was the case with Jeffrey Dahmer.

In the past few years, students have begun to speak up and take stands against dissection. Ten states currently have laws stating that a student has the right to an alternative assignment in any K-12 dissection. Even U.S. medical schools are making progress. According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, 85 of 126 U.S. medical schools have discontinued the practice of using animals for training doctors and all except two medical schools in the United States offer their students non-animal alternatives.

This past school year, I was faced with participating in a dissection of a fetal pig in my biology class. I refused to participate in the dissection and sacrifice my belief that all animals have rights and was therefore offered no other option but to drop the class halfway through the semester. Why are students who value life being turned away from education? Why should those with the courage to speak up for their beliefs be punished?

Animal dissection is an unnecessary practice because of computer simulations and other alternatives that are presently available. It is crucial that the absurdity of dissection be realized so that both human and non-human animal rights are no longer impinged upon.

What essence of an individual gives his or her life value? I believe that one can be most strongly defined by his or her conscience and ethical beliefs.

In conclusion, I refer back to the words of someone who also stood up for his conscience, Martin Luther King, Jr., "There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor political, nor popular, but he must take it because his conscience tells him that it is right."

For additional resources on Animal Dissection, laws in your state, or how to stand up and implement a student choice policy at your school, please view the following websites:

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine 


National Anti-Vivisection Society 

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