Frequently Asked Questions

How many animals are dissected every year?

A reasonable estimate is that about six million vertebrate animals are dissected yearly in U.S. high schools alone, with an additional, unknown number used in colleges and middle and elementary schools. The number of invertebrate animals dissected is probably comparable to that of vertebrates.

What species are used?

The most commonly dissected vertebrates are frogs, fetal pigs, and cats. Others include dogfish sharks, perch, rats, pigeons, salamanders, rabbits, mice, turtles, snakes, mink, foxes, and bats. Invertebrates include crayfish, grasshoppers, earthworms, clams, sea stars, squid, sea urchins, and cockroaches.

Where do the animals used in dissection come from?

It is estimated that 170 types of animals or more are used for dissection or vivisection (i.e. experimented upon while still alive). The animals come from various sources such as: their natural habitat, animal breeders and dealers, pounds, shelters, ranches, and slaughterhouses. Live and dead animals are bought from these sources by biological supply companies from which educators purchase laboratory specimens. For instance, people who 'fish' will sell fish and sharks to biological suppliers. Cats and dogs, who have been euthanized in shelters or pounds or otherwise acquired by animal dealers, are also sold to suppliers.

Animals are also obtained as 'byproducts' of extremely cruel industries. For instance, slaughterhouses provide fetal pigs, and fur farms sell skinned mink, foxes, and rabbits. Most of these animals led deprived or otherwise miserable lives and die in agony. Common methods of killing include: suffocation, anal electrocution, drowning, gas chambers, or euthanasia.

Because these animals are considered mere objects or products, the lack of quality care, handling, and treatment often leads to trauma, injury, or premature death. For example, live animals are often shipped in overcrowded packaging, which leads to injury, food deprivation, dehydration, and/or suffocation. These animals also can be exposed to extreme temperatures and rough handling.

In order to better assure that animals are obtained in a legal manner and cared for properly, some warm-blooded animals are protected under the United States Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the federal agency that enforces the AWA. The AWA requires that animal dealers be licensed as Class 'A' or Class 'B' dealers and that facilities operated by these dealers be inspected by the USDA. Class 'A' dealers are animal breeders. Class 'B' dealers may also breed animals, but also purchase and re-sell live and/or dead animals. Class 'B' dealers procure animals in a number of different ways including from 'random sources,' such as the aforementioned sources which can include unclaimed 'stray' animals, 'free to a good home' ads, or former companion animals sold by some pounds or shelters.

Class 'B' dealers may sell these animals to companies such as biological supply companies (who are also considered Class 'B' dealers under the AWA definition). Most of the animals obtained for dissection are bought from biological supply companies. The largest ones carry over 100 different species of animals from horseshoe crabs to dogfish sharks, from snakes to mink, from embalmed dogs to skinned, pregnant cats.

What is wrong with using fetal pigs? Aren't they by-products of the meat industry?

Many students object to using fetal pigs because of their concern for the treatment of animals raised for human consumption. Almost all of the nearly 100 million pigs slaughtered annually for human consumption in the U. S. are raised in crowded, confined conditions, where they are deprived of space, fresh air, and fresh forage for the duration of their shortened lives. Many also have their tails cut off and their teeth excised as piglets. The fetuses that end up in the dissection tray are taken from pregnant sows at the slaughterhouse.

Shouldn't students who plan to pursue a higher education in science or medicine learn to dissect before attending college?

The American Medical Association does not recommend that students need dissection as part of their curriculum for medical school education. Additionally, many of the most prestigious medical schools such as Harvard, Yale, and Stanford no longer use live animals to teach future doctors. Instead, they use modern technology and human cadavers, which are the most applicable way to learn human anatomy.

Many veterinary schools such as Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine and Western Health Sciences University College of Veterinary Medicine have found ways to incorporate compassionate and respectful ways to obtain cadavers for anatomy lessons and teach surgical skills without terminating the animals' lives. They have developed Educational Memorial Programs (EMPs) in their hospitals in which clients can donate their deceased companion animal from whom students will learn.

Students can develop an understanding of anatomy, their manual and cognitive skills, and the necessary confidence for a successful surgery by using models. When their skills improve, they can then observe and assist a licensed veterinary surgeon in the operating room until they are ready to act as the primary surgeon under supervision. This gives the real-life experience of an actual veterinary surgical procedure. Whereas, in terminal surgeries on healthy animals, in which students know that the animal will be euthanized before recovering from the surgery, students forgo wearing gloves and taking other necessary precautions required for a sterile, successful, and real-life surgery. They also lean nothing about the importance of successful recovery and healing.

What's wrong with using animals who have been killed for other reasons?

Seeing and cutting into dead animals who were once someone's companion can be very traumatic or otherwise difficult for students, especially if they find that the animal is pregnant. Use of animals from slaughterhouses, fur farms, or shelters and pounds neglect the greater problems of animal cruelty, why these animal lives have been wasted, and the animal overpopulation crisis. It instills a utilitarian view of animals, disregarding the study of life. The purchase of cadavers for dissection creates another demand for these cruel industries.

What legal protection do students have regarding dissection?

Students from K-12 have the legal right to refuse to dissect a once-living animal. Today student choice laws exist in California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia. Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Washington, DC offer informal policies. Individual students have inspired the development of these students' rights laws through their own actions. Students need to realize that they play a significant role in their education. And their choices can make a significant difference for animals.

These laws typically require the school to notify students and/or their parents at the beginning of the course. They allow the student to choose a humane alternative and the laws require that students who choose to opt out of dissection not be penalized for doing so.

In many cases students living in states that don't have protective policies have been successful in encouraging their teachers to allow them to use alternatives to dissection. Sometimes students have even succeeded in banning dissection at their schools because of their efforts.

Do any other countries have laws regarding dissection?

Animal dissection was banned from schools in Argentina in 1987 and in Slovakia in 1994. In 1993, a law took effect in Italy that recognizes the right of conscientious objectors to refuse to participate in animal's experimentation. In 1997, the Indian government announced that animal dissection would be made optional for school students in the country, and the decision was recently implemented. Additionally, in 2001 the Central Board of Secondary Education in India banned the dissection of mice, rats, and frogs from the curriculum. In December 1999, the Israeli Minister of Education, Yossi Sarid, announced an immediate ban on dissection and live-animal experimentation in the country's schools.