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June 26, 2007 > Ohlone Humane Society

Ohlone Humane Society

Is this really necessary? NO

By Nancy Lyon

It may not be a popular subject with school just letting out for summer vacation but now is the time for students and parents to consider what this coming fall and the start of school may bring.

Chances are, if you're a high school or a middle school biology student, you will be asked at some point to dissect a preserved animal specifically killed for that purpose. To some, it raises the conflict of personal ethics versus a passing grade.

Biology, as the "study of life" should be designed to instill in students an interest in, and respect for, all living things. Many believe that these objectives are best met when biology education focuses on animals as living, sentient creatures, emphasizing their behavior, life history patterns, and relationships with their environment.

Many students have long questioned the morality of harming and killing animals as part of classroom instruction. In the past, a student refusing to take part in dissecting animals had no recourse and a lowered grade or class failure was often the result of acting on the dictates of their conscience. Dissection alienates many compassionate students from life science; as a result, many bright students choose careers in other fields.
According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) there are excellent reasons to seek humane alternatives. Dissection causes great animal suffering and death, it devalues life and desensitizes children to suffering, it's bad for the environment, it's a waste of money, and it's not the best way to learn. For these reasons many students, parents, and teachers have turned to alternatives such as CD-ROMs, videos and models as methods of teaching rather than dissection.
Despite growing enlightenment, it is estimated that six million cats, dogs, frogs and other animals are killed each year for dissections. According to HSUS, animals suffer during capture, handling, transport, and killing for dissection. Recent documented examples include cats purchased on streets in Mexico, killed by drowning or having their throats slit or prodded roughly into crowded gas chambers then shipped to the U.S. for distribution. Live frogs piled into cloth bags for days or weeks; bullfrogs dying and rotting in transport containers. Warehoused turtles crowded into filthy holding tanks; bacterial infections rampant with many dying.
A great number of the animals sold for dissection are "wild caught" and are a factor which may contribute to serious worldwide declines in many animal populations. Animals, such as frogs, taken illegally from their natural habitats directly contribute to environmental devastation because insect populations, normally kept in check by frogs, multiply exponentially. This leads to increased use of pesticides which in turn poisons and erodes the entire ecosystem. Because many of these frog species are endangered, taking them from the wild amounts to illegal poaching.

How effective are the alternatives? Recent evidence about the efficiency of alternative methods, not to mention their cost-effectiveness, is making it increasingly difficult for school districts to balk at providing students with options to dissection. In fact, HSUS recently compiled a list of 29 studies that compared alternative methods against dissections and other animal uses. In 28 of those studies, researchers found that students using alternatives such as models and computer simulations performed as well or better than students who conducted traditional dissections.

They state, "The bottom line is that there are no valid arguments against allowing students to use alternatives. Students who use alternatives learn the material as well as or better than those students who perform dissection. Furthermore, alternatives are less expensive than the use of animals. Given that schools operate under the constraints of a very limited budget, the cost saving is something that should be extremely appealing"

California law supports classroom choice-in-dissection allowing a student to refuse to participate in classroom exercises-particularly dissections-that are harmful to animals. These laws typically require the school to notify students and/or their parents at the beginning of a course when animal dissection is part of that course; they allow students to choose humane alternatives; and require that students who choose to desist from dissection not be penalized. These laws apply to kindergarten through high school. In some cases, teachers may still require dissections if they believe no adequate alternatives exist.

If a student has a moral or religious objection to dissecting, harming or killing animals s/he should ask the teacher at the beginning of the school year if dissection is part of the class requirements. The student must supply a note from his/her parent or guardian, recognizing the student's objection. It's important to be polite, respectful and firm, and be able to explain that a student is requesting an alternate project.

If the teacher believes that there is an adequate alternative project, the teacher can work with the student to develop that project. A teacher's decision must not be arbitrary or capricious. The alternative project must require a comparable amount of time and effort from the student; it cannot be used to penalize the student. A student may not be discriminated against because of his/her moral objection to dissecting, harming or killing animals in the classroom.

A student who chooses an alternative educational project must pass all course examinations to receive credit. However, if tests require harm to or killing of animals, the student may, similarly, seek alternative tests.
OHS continues to sponsor Tri-City elementary school classroom subscriptions to the KIND News, a publication of the National Association of Humane and Environmental Educators (NAHEE). KIND News supports educational curricula that foster environmental stewardship and compassion for life; dissection encourages neither - animal life is devalued and treated as expendable.
It is our hope that this ethic of compassion and respect for life will be supported by humane choices in higher levels of education by both students and educators. The goal is to ensure that a high-quality education does not inadvertently harm animals. Simple changes, such as the adoption of student choice policies that respect students' ethical and religious beliefs about using animals in biology education, can make a world of difference for both the children being educated and the animals.
Information available:
OHS strongly urges students and their families, educators and school administrators to investigate the numerous effective, easily obtained, affordable, and humane alternatives to using animals in classroom dissection.
The HSUS has completed a three-year comparison of the cost of dissection materials and dissection alternatives for three frequently used species (cats, fetal pigs, and bullfrogs).
We encourage a review of in-depth information and cost-comparison (available in a PDF download) on its web site at:

If a teacher or school administrator refuses to work with students and parents, support information and materials can be obtained about the HSUS Humane Education Loan Program (HELP) at 301-258-3042 or email for assistance.

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