**I want to start right off the bat and mention that there is a content warning for this post. I’m going to talk about animal dissections in classes so if you don’t want to hear about that (sometimes I may get graphic), then I suggest you skip this post. I promise I won’t post any pictures but some of the links in this article do have pretty graphic pictures.**
I was first introduced to animal dissection in 5th grade. My science class ended the year by pairing off my fellow classmates and I and giving each pair a cow’s eye, scalpel, and some tweezers. We were supposed to find all the areas of the eye that we had just learned about-iris, retina, that sort of thing. I remember that I was the note taker and refused to touch it. I was so grossed out. The other thing I remember so clearly was that we were not provided with gloves at all. Little did I know that this would end up becoming a common theme.
Seventh grade was the next time I came across animal dissection. This time it was a bull frog that we were supposed to dissect. We were able to do it in tables, which was a group of 4-5 of us, and not everyone had to partake, but at least one person had to do the actual cutting, etc. Someone in my group had agreed to do it so once again I was just going to take the notes. The time came for the actual lesson and each group was given a massive bull frog, a wax box thingy to push the pins in, as well as surgical equipment. No gloves were provided again.
What ended up happening this time was that the person who agreed to do the dissection, did not want to do it any more after seeing our frog, laying belly up in the wax box. None of the rest of us did either, though there were numerous attempts at putting pins in the frogs hands, which failed as soon as we tried. We ended up just sitting there the entire class because we refused to touch the frog. I remember the teacher just thought we were being silly but never actually forced us to do it.
Fast forward to Freshman/Sophomore year of high school. One lesson in science class was focused around dissecting a rat. I had decided that I wanted to go into the medical field at that time and knew that I had to be ok with doing stuff like this. So once again we were paired up, a rat for each pair, along with surgical equipment and one of those wax box thingies that you pushed the pins into to hold the animal in place. Once again…no gloves were provided. I came prepared though I brought my own (which I shared with many people).
Having the gloves made me feel more comfortable so I touched the rat, but it didn’t make me comfortable enough. My friend who I was doing the dissection with had to end up doing everything because I refused to do the gross stuff (cracking the back to get it to lay flat, cutting open, removing organs, etc). I had another friend in that same class who flat-out refused to even look at the rats. The teacher allowed her to do a dissection via the computer but she was still forced to be in the same room. The smell of formaldehyde and the sound of the bones in the rat breaking sent her to promptly to the bathroom to throw up.
My last time with animal dissection was when I was a Senior in High School and I actually took an anatomy class by choice, knowing that the second half of the semester was going to be focused entirely on dissections, with a class field trip to the local tech school to view a cadaver (woo!). I decided by that time that I didn’t want to be in the medical field anymore but wanted to go into marine biology.
I did very well in that class by conforming to everything I was supposed to do. I was the one who had gotten ‘over’ my grossed out phase and jumped in to be the one in my group to do the actual dissection for each animal that was provided for us. Once again…no gloves were provided.
(Let me just quickly jump in and say that I went to well off school districts. I was by no means in private school but the schools I went to were definitely classified as good schools so they could afford a pack of gloves for each classroom. Seriously…)
In this class we dissected a shark, salamander, turtle, and something else that I can’t remember (bird maybe?). Our trip to the tech school was eye-opening for me though. We were taken in small groups into the room where the cadaver was being housed. That didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. What really creeped me out were there were cats in bags all around me (yep I said cats) that were what the medical students were dissecting. It was in that instance that I decided I wanted nothing to do with cutting animals open in a career.
What made me think about this subject as a post is while listening to the Chickpeeps podcast one of their hosts, Tylor Starr, who works for PETA, mentioned that there are other options for schools. Some states even legally require there to be alternative options for those who do not want to participate in the physical dissection.
(Jumping in again before we get to the info. I know that PETA is controversial and people seem to either love them or hate them-maybe that’s a discussion for a different post-however they do have great information on their website, especially about this topic).
They say, “Studies also suggest that exposing young people to animal dissection as “science” can foster a callousness toward animals and nature and even dissuade some from pursuing careers in science“. Well we know from my anecdote above that that is EXACTLY what happened to me.
“Students don’t need to cut up animals to understand basic anatomy and physiology. Those who plan to go into a medical field would do better to study humans in a controlled and supervised setting, examine human cadavers, or use any of the many non-animal learning methods available, such as those provided by computer models and sophisticated simulators. This type of simulation-based education would more accurately reflect what students will encounter when they get to medical school, since more than 90 percent of U.S. medical schools have abandoned the use of animals in their standard curricula.”
I have to highlight some of that paragraph above…
“[Computer models] would more accurately reflect what students will encounter when they get to medical school”
“More than 90 percent of U.S. medical schools have abandoned the use of animals in their standard curricula.”
Not to mention using computer models would also limit the use of formaldehyde which we all know is a carcinogen (seriously why do we still use this shit?). I can’t imagine the amount of formaldehyde that I’ve been exposed to over the years, even second-hand when I entered a classroom after the previous class did a dissection.
Seriously, why is this even a thing anymore?
Animal dissection also perpetuates specisism and dissociation.
So what can be done?
If you’re a student, ask for alternative method.
Parents, go to the PTA or school board and demand alternative options.
PETA even has this great resource for why non-animal teaching methods are better.
You can absolutely do something. Keep pushing for what you think is right, even if it means going against ‘authority’ figures (teachers in this case). There is no reason why animal dissection should be required and I can guarantee you that if things haven’t fully changed by the time BB (Baby Boy) gets to school, he will not be participating.