Veterinary and Medical Students

Don't Want to Harm Animals in Your Education?

Every year millions of animals are dissected and vivisected for educational purposes. Cats, fetal pigs, and dogs are just some of the many species used. Although some animals are purchased as dead specimens, many others are subjected to painful and lethal procedures while still alive. These lethal procedures are often called dog labs. Dog labs are used to teach basic physiology and pharmacology. These labs may also be performed on other animals besides dogs. Even though alternatives exist, dog labs are still regularly performed in over half of the 126 U.S. medical schools and in 25 out of the 27 accredited U.S. veterinary medical schools.

While some students participate in these procedures, there are many students who because of their ethical beliefs object to the use of animals as mere educational tools. Many students enter into veterinary and/or medical school to help animals and/or people and these exercises run contrary to their philosophical and ethical beliefs by requiring that they deliberately and directly harm animals without gaining new insights, and merely exploring the anatomy, physiology, and pharmacology of the dead animal. Thankfully in the United States, the First Amendment of the United States Constitution can assist students. 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/her choice. For our purposes a student who, because of his/her beliefs feels it is wrong to harm an animal, this clause can be used to protest involvement in an educational lesson that harms animals, offering him/her the right to ask for an alternative.

Individual students have inspired the development of laws to protect students' rights. These laws have been passed in nine states (California, Florida, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, New Jersey, Oregon, and Rhode Island) and guarantee a student the right to choose an alternative to an animal lab. Unfortunately, these laws pertain only to students at the elementary and secondary levels.

Unlike elementary and secondary schools, most universities do not have an overriding school code that is dictated by the state or any overarching governing body. As a result, individual institutions prescribe their own guidelines on issues such as dissection and vivisection in the classroom. Rather than having a policy on which they can rely, most students must discuss the issue of conscientious objection with their professors or departments. Informal dissection policies can change depending on the professor, the department, and/or the institution. This can produce confusing situations at the collegiate level for students who choose to conscientiously object to dissection and vivisection in the classroom.

As a result, students across the U.S. have attempted to implement students' rights options at colleges and universities. From coast to coast, students have begun to voice their opinions about choice policies. This ground swell of activism is changing the landscape of veterinary and medical school education by creating a dialogue about alternatives to dissection and vivisection.