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November 13, 2013

Student Action: Choose Virtual Dissection!

If you want to learn about anatomy without dissecting dead animals, read on

  • Most frogs used in dissection have been taken from their natural habitats. morguefile

Every year, millions of frogs, pigs, turtles, cats, mice, rats, fish, and other animals are used in school dissection exercises. Would you believe that an estimated six million vertebrate animals, and roughly the same number of invertebrates, are dissected by high school students each year?  

And that's just in high schools—even more animals are also dissected in colleges, middle schools, and elementary schools.

Many animals used for dissection are obtained from the wild. Others, such as fetal pigs, are byproducts of the meat industry. Even cats and dogs euthanized at animal shelters are dissected in some classrooms.

Take our free online course to learn more about how to secure dissection alternatives

Students often have moral or ethical objections to dissection but believe they must participate in order to pass the class or maintain their grade point average. A vast majority of students (90% in one poll) feel they should be given a choice or alternative when it comes to dissection.

The good news is, with today's technology, you can still learn basic anatomy without killing animals. And if you live in Florida, California, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New York, Rhode Island, Illinois, Virginia, Oregon, New Jersey, or Vermont, you're really in luck—all of these states have laws giving students the right to choose an alternative to dissection.

Even if your state doesn't have choice-in-dissection laws, that doesn't necessarily mean that you will have to dissect. If you find yourself in a class that calls for dissection, here's what you can do.

1. Don’t procrastinate! Find out as early as possible if a class will require dissection. Ask your teacher at the beginning of the semester if any dissections are planned. The sooner you speak up, the more likely you are to succeed in obtaining an alternative.

2. Strength in numbers. Talk with other students. See if anyone else in your class or grade feels the way you do about dissection. Find out who is willing to join you in requesting alternatives, then get together as a group to form a game plan for gathering information and meeting with your teacher.

With today's technology, you can still learn basic anatomy without killing animals.

3. Know your stuff. Even student doctors and veterinarians-in-training have the option of practicing their surgical skills on human cadavers donated to science and/or on animals in need (under the supervision of experienced surgeons).

If medical professionals have choices, shouldn’t elementary, middle, and high school students, too? Make a list of the reasons you are against dissection and get all the facts about dissection and its alternatives. Videos, 3-D models, charts, CD-ROMs, and other materials are available on loan, free of charge, from several organizations, including these:

Studies have proven that students who use these alternatives learn the material as well as or better than students who perform actual dissections, and alternatives are also less expensive. Because an animal can be dissected only once, new specimens must be reordered year after year, while models, videos, and CDs can be used again and again. (Find more helpful facts in our Dissection Campaign Packet.)

4. Meet with your teacher. Set up a time to discuss your concerns with your teacher. Be polite, positive, and respectful. Be sure to explain why you prefer not to dissect, and present at least one alternative.

Before your meeting, borrow materials from one of the programs listed above so that you can demonstrate to your teacher just how effective the alternatives are. If your teacher won’t budge, seek the support of parents and other students. See if you can make your case to the principal or school board.

5. Make it the rule, not the exception. Make it easier for fellow and future students to avoid dissection by working with your school or district to institute a student choice policy. Download the materials in our Dissection Campaign Packet for more details.

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