Although dissection is commonplace in high school science classrooms across the province, Alberta teachers should be cognizant of human and animal ethics, and animal welfare implications that accompany this practice.
Students may object the practice of dissection on moral, ethical or religious grounds. Some students are comfortable asserting this discomfort, but research shows that the number of students who object to dissection is likely under-estimated. Some school boards in Canada, have created student choice policies such as the Burnaby School District, that entrench the right for students to use alternative methods to meet curricular outcomes. The Windsor-Essex Catholic School District in Ontario has decided to phase out animal dissection in favour of virtual technology as a “more ethical, humane and engaging way to teach students science.”
While the act of dissection in and of itself is not inhumane, there are animal welfare implications to consider. For example, mistreatment of an animal at any stage from procurement, handling, transport and euthanasia warrants consideration. Furthermore, impacts to population levels for wild caught animals are also a concern. Non-animal techniques provide cost-effective methods with many benefits to both the student and teachers – besides the obvious benefits to the animals.
For centuries, animals have been used as models to aid in teaching about the human body. Since there were no alternatives at the time, students needed to cut open the animals to expose the internal organs. The advancement of new technology has led to non-animal alternatives that effective at meeting student learning outcomes.
Animal Ethics & Societal Trends:
The use of alternatives such as software and physical models is on the rise. All post-secondary institutes in Canada that use animals for research, teaching or testing ascribe to the 3Rs tenant that guides the ethical use of animals in science. The 3Rs requires animal users to explore alternatives to reduce the number of animals.
The University of Calgary Veterinary College is well-known around the world for their use of models to help veterinary students learn how to practice medicine on a variety of animal species. Read about resin models and horse simulators used to teach vet students in Calgary.
Schools and teachers may want to implement an opt-in policy which can address human ethics, animal ethics and social trends.
For a look at more technology advances, have a look at TED talk on a virtual dissection table and this BBC article highlighting an app to help prepare surgeons and medical staff.