A Whole Can of Worms

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A Whole Can of Worms

By Mark Farias on TheJackOnLine.org
December 2009

Other universities have already taken action on this issue and have created alternatives for dissection assignments.

When your beliefs collide with your work...

The means don’t always justify the ends; a fundamental moral argument of an animal rights activist like Oziel Padilla.

Unfortunately for Padilla, his moral stance lowered his grade by 12 percent, a whole letter grade, and there is nothing he can do about it.

A biology major, Padilla takes animal physiology because it satisfies a requirement for his major.” After finding out that the syllabus included animal experiments, one of which requires ripping earthworms’ crop gizzards out and adding a neurotransmitter to them to see the organs contract, I asked the professor Bruce O’Gara if there were alternative experiments for students who are ethically opposed to non-consensual animal experimentation and dissection,” said Padilla.

Other universities have already taken action on this issue and have created alternatives for dissection assignments. Some universities offering alternative assignments include Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, The University of San Francisco, and Portland Community College in Oregon amongst many others.

O’Gara said there is a school policy that requires students to be present for animal experiments and dissections in order to receive credit for them. Alternative experiments are not provided. Padilla was told if he did not participate he would have to drop the class.

“After I explained that I could not drop the course because it satisfies requirements both for my major and optometry school, and asked if he and I could set up a meeting with the [Biology] Department Chair John Reiss, his response was that I should not contact the department chair because he would tell me the same thing.”

Padilla said he presented the case to Reiss that students should not have to be forced to violate deeply help ethics and morals for a grade. “There is no need for it in the case of cruel experiments and dissections since alternative assignments have been proven to be as effective than cruel assignments,” said Padilla.

Currently, there is nothing in writing that allows a student to protest an assignment because of their moral or ethical beliefs. Reiss said there is a department policy that states that you are not obligated to participate in animal experimentation. “You are required to observe so that you can benefit from the hands-on experience,” he said.

Mary Sue Savage with Humbold State University' AWARE (Always Working for Animal Rights and Equality) advocates an alternative assignment option for students who do not agree with what is happening in the class room.

“This issue isn’t just about dissection or animal experimentation, it is about a student’s right to choose; to have their beliefs respected, and to have their voices heard,” said Savage.
Padilla said he provided Reiss with a list of alternative assignments which can be done through software programs like Dissection Works Deluxe and a cost-analysis report of both methods. Savage presented him with a stack of petitions signed by students and people affiliated with HSU, including faculty, who support a choice policy. Reiss told Padilla and
Savage he would present the proposed petition to the biology department on its Nov. 13 meeting which ended with no change in policy.

Since the meeting, AWARE has collected more than 1,250 signatures supporting a dissection choice policy.

Savage said she presented the signatures to Reiss, who told her that although the amount of signatures is impressive, students ultimately do not have a say in the curriculum.

Reiss said the faculty of the Biological Sciences Department feels that contact with organisms is an essential part of biological training, and not something that students should be allowed to opt out of in majors classes.

“There is a degree of hypocrisy in wanting to learn things derived from animal dissection or experimentation, but not being willing to observe such experimentation, and that it is the role of the faculty, not the students, to dictate the content of the curriculum,” he said.

Reiss said there is some dissatisfaction in the department with the language of the current policy, and it is planning on revisiting that language and trying to make it clearer.

O’Gara and Reiss said the signatures that Padilla and Savage collected will not make a difference in the policy.

Savage believes the biology department is now discouraging compassionate students who care about animals from attending Humboldt State. “They have actively ignored the numerous studies that have proven alternatives to dissection are just as effective if not more effective than live dissections,” said Savage.
If the petition is ignored, students will continue to be forced to set their feelings aside and fulfill the course requirements.

O’Gara said the amount of pain humans perceive doesn’t correlate well to actual pain felt. “The fact that an animal reacts to a stimulus that could produce damage to its body does not indicate that the animal is feeling pain,” said O’Gara. “The movements produced look essentially identical to what would be produced in an intact frog. Similarly, in people with spinal cord damage [that causes paralysis], if you apply a painful stimulus, the person will not feel pain. However, the person’s body may produce reflex movements in reaction to the stimulus.”

These statements will not stop Savage or Padilla. After Friday’s decision, Savage said although the Biology Department did not implement any of the changes she proposed, she will continue the fight and not stop until student voices are heard and taken seriously.

“In the end, the biology department ultimately silenced the needs and beliefs of students on this campus, and refused to let us have a say in our education.”