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Study shows alternatives to dissection campaigns result in fewer dissections at college

Virtual temporal bone dissection simulator
Virtual temporal bone dissection simulator gives tactile sensation with precision and accuracy
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Vegetarians, Vegans and Animal Rights activists have found it ethically distasteful to give consent for student fees to pay for more animal deaths, for a number of moral, environmental and pedagogical reasons, according to the study The first cut is the deepest: reflections on the state of
animal dissection in biology education
(Villiers and Monk 2005). As a result, some countries have adopted a fewer dissections policy in schools, colleges and universities.

Dr. Nancy L. Harrison, M.D. has found that long-established justifications for dissection in schools have lost credibility, and the ethics of killing hundreds of millions of animals globally each year are called into question in the early 21st century.

"As a doctor who performs autopsies, I can assure students that computer images of well-preserved tissues look more like the 'real thing' than the squishy gray organs of a formalin-fixed specimen. Simulated dissection is very realistic, the accompanying text is elegant, and the graphics are superb. Computerized alternatives are rapidly replacing animals in medical and veterinary colleges across the country," says Harrison.

Senior year pre-med and Biology majors are familiar with performing many a dissection. These "necessary" techniques cost a well-documented over 6 million animal lives per year in the United States, according to the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA). It also costs millions of dollars from students who enroll in the courses, without realizing they will have "no choice", if they want to maintain an A, and to become accepted with a traditional background into only the best medical schools.

If one is not pursuing a surgery specialty (which most students are not, and will not be specializing for until medical school), these lives become nothing more for most students than a dead body to prod, poke and stab. The laughing disrespect students witness, with many students jabbing fun/making fun of the dead animal carcasses in lab, desensitizes. The attitudes of those who show respect and gratitude for life that has passed on is reflected in the quiet presence of people who do not support this policy, but perhaps do not know (or believe in the power of one enough) to voice these concerns, to the one who can change policy.

Some students are under the dim and hopeful impression at one point that the animals obtained are from humane ways, like from humane society shelters or after an animal has naturally died. This idea is kept as a sign of faith in humanity, (as ignorant as it may seem) to pursue the path of peace, be it with members of our own species or with members of another race, as roommates sharing this bountiful blue and green planet we are guests on.

Had the bodies been obtained by natural means, from people donating themselves as part of their burial wishes upon death for research, or from animals who have died naturally and were immediately iced, dissection might be understandable.

But that is not the case--one can see where the pig's throats have been slit, these biology professors not realizing it seems, that pigs shown in multiple case studies have at least the intelligence of a 5 year old child.

In the above video, a pig is shown to navigate a joystick and beat the scores of both monkeys and dogs. A chicken is shown to navigate a complex labyrinth by means of pullies, levers and doors. Most animals have been captured in the wild and bred just to be dissected.

Also, many biotechnology labs acquired cats by paying children to round up cats in Mexico, and then suffocating cats in bags together.

Jonathan P. Balcombe, Ph.D., ethologist and research scientist author of The Use of Animals in Higher Education says, “If every teacher and student considering dissection were to first witness the capture, handling, and death of each animal they were about to dissect, dissection would fast become an endangered classroom exercise.'

One can prevent the cruelty and overcrowded cages, when one reflects on what life is ours to take, when  we can not give that life back.

On the note of resurrection of life, many Orthodox Christian religions have begun, in the early 21st century, to focus attention on the biblical responsibility of Stewardship as is applied to all thinking and bleeding beings.

 Climate change effects of dissection reveal that self-initiated Stewardship couldn't come at a greater time of need.

According to the International Panel of Climate Change's joint study with WSPA, Eating our Future: the environmental impact of industrial animal agriculture, the ramifications of breeding animals for slaughter include:

  • Deforestation for agricultural crops and livestock grazing areas.
  • Water pollution from manure and fertilizer run-off.
  • Green House Gas emissions. The contribution of more than 18% of the world's Green House Gas Emissions (with methane being 20-30 times more potent at capturing re-emitted long wave electromagnetic radiation than is carbon dioxide) come from raising animals which are to be used for slaughter.
  • Lack of global food supplies for the rest of the world because of the grain going towards animals for slaughter.
  • Erosion of soils/Desertification due to deforestation (and loss of a further carbon sink as plant food).
  • Air Pollution from transportation of the animals to remote destinations.
  • Destruction of habitats and ecosystems, all of which affect delicate food chains and webs.
  • Greater algal bloom in water, which kills fish and aquatic ecosystems. 
  • Lack of manure for soil nutrients because of the animals being killed, rather than preserved.
  • Climate change. In particular, changes to the albedo (surface reflectivity of the land) due to deforestation, fragility of soils from monocropping, or continuously planting one particular type of grain to feed animals raised for dissection, fragility of soils from overcropping (it takes a large amount of crops and water to "create" the pig that will soon only be replaced by other pigs), lack of a root system to hold soils in place, a loss of a carbon sink (with trees that normally take up carbon dioxide as plant food no longer present), a loss of the global cooling mechanism of transpiration (natural process of water uptake in plants) due to lack of trees, and the acid rain and pollution effects from animal harvesting industry.

The increased Green House Gas emissions (GHGs) in the atmosphere from these anthropomorphic changes are well-documented by physics and chemistry laws, due to the physical nature of the molecules, to further increase the Greenhouse effect. Extra GHGs further increasing the trapping of re-emitted long wave electromagnetic radiation, which has lead to the 1-2 degree Celsius global surface temperature increase, according to International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) climate change stations and mathematical models that rule out natural forcings or causes.

  • Water conservation loss from raising animals for dissection. Dallas water rights in particular, have been fought over by multiple cities within the past several years, with more than two million people having died per year globally from lack of access to fresh drinking water. Less than .0001% of all water on earth is available to us as fresh drinking water. Lack of fresh drinking water is one of the largest political topics of the century.
  • Inefficient Use of Energy. According to the Fundamentals of Ecology textbook, 2nd ed., by Odum, it takes much more energy from the sun to create primary producers (plants) than it does to create the tertiary consumers (animals that eat animals, who have eaten other animals, that eat the plants.), with more than 90% of energy it takes to create each new level of life lost as heat along the ecological energy pyramid.
  • Demand for dissection specimens increases rate of extinction of threatened species, by contributing to habitat loss, pollution and climate change.
  • Fewer Frogs = More Pesticides. Frogs are a vital natural predator of insects, including insects that contains diseases, and farmers have long relied on frogs to keep their crops insect-free.
  • Chemicals used in preservation create health problems. Formaldehyde is classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a “hazardous air pollutant, water pollutant and waste constituent". According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, formaldehyde can cause nausea, headaches and breathing difficulties in people, and has been linked to cancer in animal studies.

Furthermore, formaldehyde has been classified as a known human carcinogen (cancer-causing substance) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Teachers and students involved in frequent dissections are exposed to it regularly. Schools throw away millions of formaldehyde-laden classroom specimens each year, which has effects on the larger ecosystem as well.

 Respecting the Rights of Students to Practice Religious Beliefs

For some students--it is more than a mere spiritual belief; it is a religious belief, particularly for vegans and vegetarians, who regard animal intelligence and rights as being on the same level, just a different type of intelligence, a different type of strength, than we supposedly "higher" animals (homo sapiens) are wielding.

To rule out this well-worn phrase as the obsolete lab instructor fear tactic of "You can't be squeamish!" from personal example and experience:

A student can most certainly not be squeamish, blood may not make one faint, and one can be quite adept at dissection. But it is spiritual beliefs that have the Vegetarian or Vegan activist set aside the scalpel. Spiritual beliefs become equated as lifestyle choices.

According to the law in effect by the government, a spiritual belief does not have to be backed by an official taxes-sanctioned organization in order to be part of one's religion.

Freedom of religion is one of the constitutionally guaranteed rights upheld by the religion clause of the First Amendment, and it is considered by many nations to be a fundamental human right.

A vegan or vegetarian may feel initially discouraged to be a scientist. The Biologist animal rights activist may feel that they can not live their dreams and passions without violating his or her principles: to study living systems, not dead ones, using the scientific method.

One need not violate one's principles as some sort of "initiation" to show how supposedly "tough" one is, in order to be a member of the health industry. It is argued that it is necessary to have tactile sensation of carcass when one is going to be a surgeon, yet 99% of animals dissected are not dissected by surgeon students. According to the National Employment Matrix database, only 633,000 out of an approximately 301,000,000 population are physicians and surgeons. That is less than .002% of students that become physicians and surgeons. Dissection is therefore a waste of animals' lives and a non-justifiable cost.

For those who need the hands-on experience, donated human cadavers are available for such professionals.

Is traditional dissection better education?

Twenty nine Comparison Studies of 4th year Veterinarians, Undergrad students, Medical school students, Veterinarian graduates, Physician Assistant students, High School students and others prove that those who choose alternatives to dissection scored at or greater on physiology and anatomical science tests than those who chose traditional dissections.

The reason one understands live relationships in action, or words in relation, is the same reason one can not study function well by merely looking at the chemical makeup of the ink on the page in a book, without seeing the moving, living, interacting and causative relationship.

 "Studies show that students learn anatomy and physiology just as well – and often better – when they use virtual dissection programs rather than cut up animals," said Kathy Guillermo, PETA's Director of Laboratory Investigations, in response to school inquiry. "PETA would be delighted to help Woodlawn High educate its students and foster respect for all life by supplying a license for sophisticated virtual dissection software."

With at least 100 years of research using animal cruelty and deaths to study Biology, supposedly the study of life, the American school systems will do well competitively and globally to adopt using already available, more advanced methodologies/technologies, which will save the schools money from cost, re-use, and environmentally, may save the planet. From computer advancement, non-invasive MRI's, electrodes, and endoscopy, we Americans have plenty of workable knowledge at our fingertips and by morally-sanctioned means to live with consistency in values that we make no distinction between what we pet, what we eat, and what we experiment on.


  • Kent 5 years ago

    Excellent, comprehensive treatment of the subject.

  • Sandra Floerke 5 years ago

    Most informative! It makes me want to become a Vegan. I did not realize that pigs can have the intelligence of a five year old child. I've seen some videos on animal intelligence before, and this was very well done. Thank you for the post!

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