For centuries, animals have been used as models to aid in teaching about the human body. Since there were no alternatives in previous generations, students needed to cut open the animals to expose and examine the internal organs. The advancement of new technology has led to more advanced methods and to new discoveries about how the method of study influences students.
Numerous published surveys show that student concern about the use of animals in dissection is far higher than is borne out by student protest in the classroom. Students often feel they have no choice; speaking out against a technique that a teacher obviously favours requires a great deal of courage (Oakley, 2013). Students may object for a number of reasons including their belief systems (life views/religious beliefs), ethical basis (vegan/vegetarian), discomfort with dissecting dead animals, and confronting death. Providing alternatives gives students the ability to learn the objectives while being considerate of their beliefs.
Other studies have attributed students’ negative behaviours in biology labs (carrying around organs to ‘gross out’ others in the class, mutilating the specimens, etc.) to coping strategies for dealing with their feelings about performing dissections.
Dr. Elisabeth Ormandy from the Society for Humane Science
discussing the use of animals in science, and the implications of dissection in a TED talk.
Alienation from Science
Many students who have had no choice but to perform dissections choose to advance to other fields of study – more so than those who are given a choice of methods. Only some students will advance to further studies in any particular subject; teachers need to teach to all students, not just those who express a keen interest.
Teaching to Care
Teachers need to be sensitive to the feelings of their students, especially at a stage in their lives when young people are forming their personal moral codes. For instance, “squeamishness” is often perceived as a weakness, and not viewed as an appropriate reason for a student to be excused from a dissection exercise. However, through their “squeamishness” students may actually be expressing their objection to dissection or compassion for another living creature. They deserve to have their feelings and opinions acknowledged and taken seriously.
Pedagogical merit of alternatives
Learn more about how alternatives compare to dissection.
- The Use of Animals in Higher Education: Problems, Alternatives and Recommendations by Jonathan Balcombe, Ph.D.
- National Science Teachers Association Position Statement on Live Animals and Dissection
- Oakley, J. (2013) “I didn’t feel right about animal dissection”: Dissection objectors share their science class experiences. Society & Animals, Vol(21)4