By Leslie Ware
(this is a letter i wrote to my local newspaper)
Dissection, which was first introduced in the 1920s, is an outdated method of learning. Frogs, cats, mice, rats, dogs, rabbits, fetal pigs, and fish are among approximately seven million vertebrates killed each year for use in high school and college level science classes. This practice causes environmental havoc, desensitizes students to animal abuse, is physically harmful to students, and ignores other important aspects of biology.
One danger of dissection is the toxic substance, formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is a dangerous carcinogen that can damage eyes, cause asthma attacks and bronchitis, and severely irritate the skin. Exposing students to this is unnecessary. By using formaldehyde in the classroom, we are also encouraging environmental destruction. Improperly disposed of chemicals can contaminate groundwater, soil, and endanger wildlife.
Another environmental danger concerns frogs. Most frogs used in dissection are caught from the wild. When frogs are stolen from their natural habitat, insect populations increase and cause crop damage and the possible spread of disease.
According to People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals, "classroom dissection desensitizes students to the sanctity of life." Most animals used for dissection have fully developed nervous systems. This means that they are capable of experiencing pain and fear. Students and teachers may be unaware of the trauma caused to an animal by removing it from its natural habitat, the stress caused from shipping and handling, dehydration, and food deprivation. Animals are sometimes so closely packed during shipping that they receive injuries from too close confinement or fall sick from the proximity to diseased animals.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of dissection is the "behind the scene" selling of cats and dogs to biological supply houses. An Arkansas research facility admitted to using stolen pets for dissection purposes while workers at the Carolina Biological Supply Company and PARMEESA admit to stealing pets to be killed for dissection purposes. Some pet stores sell older animals to be used in science labs while some animal shelters receive large sums of money for lost companion animals. Sadly, after being shipped to a supply house, the cats and dogs are gassed and then injected with formaldehyde. PETA investigators have released video taped footage taken inside North Carolina Biological Supply Company, the nation's largest biological supply house. PETA documented animals being removed from gas chambers or painfully injected with formaldehyde while still showing vital signs.
Dissection neglects many important aspects of biology such as metabolic processes, cell biology, or animal behavior. Several computer programs are available to teachers and students that can teach these aspects of biology along with what can be learned by dissection. Resourceful models, charts, and books are also available. Observing animals in their natural habitat also teaches us many important lessons about life that cannot be taught simply by cutting up dead animals.
Schools and students worldwide have taken action to replace dissection in the classroom. Argentina, Switzerland, Norway, Netherlands, and Denmark have enacted legislation to prohibit dissection below the university level. These countries and many American schools have chosen more cost efficient alternatives to dissection. Student Choice Policies have been adopted in many schools as well.
In 1999 we should break free from old and outdated methods of learning and pay closer attention to major environmental concerns, teach more respect for life, and practice safer, healthier, and more cost efficient alternatives in education.