Elementary School Students

Don't Want to Harm Animals in Your Education?
You Don't Have To.

Every year, millions of animals are dissected (cut up) or killed for classroom dissections and experimentation in elementary, middle, and high schools. Cats, frogs, fetal pigs, rats, mice, dogs, pigeons, and turtles are just some of the many animals used. While some of these animals are bought after they are already dead and then dissected to study their anatomy, some animals are bought and are used in painful procedures (vivisection) while still alive to test their psychological responses to chemical and/or physical manipulations.

While dissection still takes place in my classroom, there are those students who, because of their beliefs, object to the use of animals as educational tools. For many of these students, it is the first time in their lives that they have been confronted with the deliberate and direct harming of an animal. To them, the act of dissection in the classroom presents another dilemma. You might be faced with the same dilemma of whether or not to dissect in your biology, anatomy, or physiology class.

Thankfully, students' rights have been upheld in court case after court case, allowing them the right to say 'No' to dissection, and to choose an alternative. There are nine states that have passed laws guaranteeing students' rights. California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia all offer students the right to choose an alternative to dissection or vivisection.

If you live in a state other than those listed, you still have the right to choose an alternative. You may, however, have to go about asking for an alternative differently than those students living in states having students' rights laws. Thankfully, the First Amendment of the United States Constitution can assist you. It states: "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."

This free exercise clause protects a student's right to believe in and practice the religion of his or her choice. For example, a student who, because of his/her beliefs, feels it is wrong to harm an animal can use this clause to protest his/her involvement in an educational lesson that harms animals and can ask to be given an alternative.

Sometimes, when a student objects to dissection, teachers will ask them why they are against dissecting an animal that has already been killed. As a student, you know that seeing and cutting into dead animals that may have once been someone's companion can be very upsetting for anyone. Additionally, using animals that have come from slaughterhouses, fur farms, and/or shelters and pounds ignores the complexity of animal cruelty, and the societal impact regarding issues such as the companion animal crisis. Thus, there is no reason why a student should be told that they should not feel upset because the animal to be dissected has already been killed.

Today, both students and teachers alike realize that a person can learn just as well by using computers and other alternatives. These alternatives help to teach anatomy of animals without hurting them, helping students to learn to respect animals rather than harming them. They also help us to understand the roles animals play on Earth and in the environment, and to learn about biology, the study of life.

For Future Scientists

If your plans are to major in biology or a related science in college, or if you would like to become a physician or veterinarian in the future, you may have been told by your teacher that you need to dissect in order to get into college. This is not true, and dissection is never a requirement to enter college or medical school.

Most of the best medical schools including Harvard University, Yale University, and Stanford University no longer use live animals to teach future doctors. They use modern technology and human cadavers to teach about human anatomy.

An increasing number of veterinary schools such as Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine in Boston, have found ways to teach animal anatomy while being respectful and compassionate to animals. At Tufts, students practice sewing stitches on alternatives, and when their skills improve they can assist a veterinary surgeon in the operating room. Additionally, Tufts University has an Educational Memorial Program (EMP), where people can donate their companion animals who have died to the veterinary school so students can learn about different diseases that affect animals.