FAQ: EDUCATION

Which animal species are most commonly used in classroom dissection exercises?

Where do animal specimens used in dissection exercises come from?

What is the impact on the environment as a result of capturing frogs in the wild for dissection?

Is there a connection between dissection and the growing desensitization to violence in young people?

What are student choice laws?

Which states have passed student choice laws?

If we didn't use animals in the classroom, how would students learn about life processes?

What are some non-animal alternatives to dissection exercises?

Is there any economic benefit to using non-animal alternatives?

With so many different kinds of non-animal alternatives available, why do many biology teachers continue to support dissection?

Aren't biology teachers correct when they insist that there is no substitute for the experience of dissecting an animal and handling its internal organs?

Why do anti-vivisectionists oppose science fair projects involving the use of vertebrate animals?

If medical students couldn't practice surgical techniques on animals, wouldn't that compromise the learning process and put their future patients at risk?

Which U.S. medical schools do not use animals to train their medical students?







Which animal species are most commonly used in classroom dissection exercises?

Although frogs are the most commonly used animal in dissection exercises, a wide range of species are used, including frogs, earthworms, grasshoppers, cats, rats, and fetal pigs. In addition, organs from cows and sheep are harvested for classroom dissection.
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Where do animal specimens used in dissection exercises come from?

Many animals are raised specifically for dissection, while others are captured in the wild. 

Frogs taken from the wild can cause serious environmental problems. Devastation to the environment can result when insect populations, normally kept in check by frogs, multiply exponentially and lead to the increased use of pesticides, which in turn poison and erode the entire ecosystem. 

In addition, cats have been taken from pet stores and animal shelters or stolen from homes to supply classrooms. Fetal pigs used in experiments are removed from the bodies of their pregnant mothers at slaughterhouses. And animal organs, such as eyes, hearts and lungs, are also taken from the slaughterhouses.
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What is the impact on the environment as a result of capturing frogs in the wild for dissection?

As part of a complex life cycle, frogs are both predator and prey. Frogs eat mosquitoes and other insects, and are themselves an important food source for bats, snakes, turtles, fish and herons. When there are not enough frogs, mosquitoes and other insects—which carry disease and destroy food crops—become too numerous, leading to the increased use of pesticides, which poison and erode the entire ecosystem. Meanwhile, the animals who prey on frogs decrease in number because there are not enough frogs to eat. This affects the animals who prey on the predators, and so on throughout the cycle of life. 

Researchers from the World Conservation Union reported in 2004 that a third of all amphibian species around the globe, including frogs, were threatened with extinction. Although habitat loss, pollution and climate changes are the primary causes, demand for dissection specimens only makes matters worse. Analysts estimate that as many as six million wild frogs are destroyed each year in the U.S. alone for dissection.
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Is there a connection between dissection and the growing desensitization to violence in young people?

While there are currently no specific studies to cite, many sociologists and child development experts believe there is a connection between animal dissection and violent behavior in students. 

However, published research has established a connection between animal cruelty and violence against humans. According to a 1997 study done by the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and Northeastern University, animal abusers are five times more likely to commit violent crimes against people. Research conducted at Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma, indicates that the more frequently people are exposed to a certain situation, the more comfortable they become with it. It’s worth exploring whether this desensitization to violence in animals translates to desensitization to violence in people. 

There is also the issue of mixed messages dissection sends about animal/human relationships. Students are taught that it is acceptable to dissect a cat in school, yet are encouraged to be loving, responsible companion animal guardians at home.
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What are student choice laws?

Student choice laws protect the rights of students who refuse to participate in a dissection exercise based on their moral beliefs. These laws ensure that students who request a non-animal alternative are provided one without jeopardizing their grade.
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Which states have passed student choice laws?

States with informed student consent laws (K-12): California, ConnecticutFlorida, Illinois, New JerseyNew York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont,  Virginia, 

States with student choice policies: Maine, 1989 (State Dept. of Ed policy),Maryland, 1997 (majority of individual county policies)
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If we didn't use animals in the classroom, how would students learn about life processes?

There are many non-animal alternatives to dissection that teach children about life processes far more effectively than cutting up an animal. Using a non-animal alternative provides the necessary learning experience while also teaching young people a healthy respect for all life. Dissection, on the other hand, conveys the message that life is cheap and expendable.
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What are some non-animal alternatives to dissection exercises?

Innovative technology has produced a wide range of non-animal alternatives that teach children valuable computer skills while they learn about life processes. These alternatives include interactive, virtual reality programs on CD-ROM and DVD. There are also a multitude of anatomical charts, transparencies and videotapes available. Three-dimensional replicas made of species ranging from frogs to fetal pigs to human torsos illustrate organs and processes with remarkable detail. All these materials are available from kindergarten through the post-graduate level.
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Is there any economic benefit to using non-animal alternatives?

In these days of budget cuts and teachers being asked to do more with less, non-animal alternatives to dissection should be welcomed by school districts because a one-time investment in these materials pays off in many ways. Non-animal alternatives will last many years, and teachers don’t have to keep replenishing their supply of once-live frogs, cats and fetal pigs, which can be very costly. Non-animal alternatives are often less expensive on a short-term basis, and are always less expensive on a long-term basis.
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With so many different kinds of non-animal alternatives available, why do many biology teachers continue to support dissection?

Many science teachers defend classroom dissection because they simply aren’t aware of the technologically advanced dissection alternatives. Others insist that allowing students to choose a non-animal alternative will erode discipline in the classroom. Some educators resist using alternatives because they simply don’t have the time or inclination to learn a new teaching method. Still others believe that it is an important “rite of passage” in a student’s development, or that students pursuing an advanced degree in science or medicine will be required to dissect in college. 

In reality, students have many opportunities to study life science using dissection alternatives, which have been shown to be more effective teaching tools. Dissection alternatives allow students and educators to make a positive demonstration of their commitment to learning. It is likely that many of our best and brightest young people, believing that they must dissect in order to successfully complete their education, turn away from a career in science and medicine because of ethical concerns. Dissection alternatives help ethically-minded students fulfill their academic requirements in a way that keeps the life in life science – and keeps the student engaged in scientific endeavors.
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Aren't biology teachers correct when they insist that there is no substitute for the experience of dissecting an animal and handling its internal organs?

No. Dissection is not the best way to learn anatomy, but it does seem to be the best way to discourage students from pursuing careers in the life sciences. 

In fact, studies have shown that students who have used a dissection alternative perform at least as well—and often better—in their coursework.

Furthermore, it is likely that many of our best and brightest young scientists, believing that they must dissect in order to successfully complete their education, turn away from a career in science and medicine because of ethical concerns.
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Why do anti-vivisectionists oppose science fair projects involving the use of vertebrate animals?

Anti-vivisectionists are opposed to animal experiments of all kinds. Science fairs which allow students to perform invasive experiments on vertebrate animals create additional problems because of the potential for animal abuse. Furthermore, allowing animal experiments at science fairs reinforces the idea that animal research is a scientifically viable way of learning more about human disease, which it is not.
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If medical students couldn't practice surgical techniques on animals, wouldn't that compromise the learning process and put their future patients at risk?

No. In a 1994 survey published in Good Medicine, 78% of 110 medical students surveyed supported a student's right to choose not to participate in required terminal dog labs, and 32% felt that, given a choice, they would not participate in such labs. In fact, an overwhelming number of medical students and physicians believe that human observation is the best teacher for learning techniques, procedures and basic physiology. Medical students observe numerous procedures, such as chest tube insertions, before ever doing one. When it is time for them to perform the procedure on a human, they will not be alone, but will have two or three physicians watching them to make sure they are performing the technique properly. Only after multiple insertions, under direct supervision, will the student, who is by then a resident, be allowed to do one alone. There are many differences between inserting a chest tube in a dog and a human, who has a different anatomy than a dog. Surgeons learn how to be surgeons by watching other surgeons. There are also many ways to practice an operation without using a living human or animal. Simulab Corporation of Seattle manufactures simulators for teaching laparoscopic surgical skills, chest tube insertion and other procedures.

Here are some other examples of the non-animal alternatives which have proven to be more effective in training medical and other post-graduate students than practicing on live animals:

    • “Sniffy” is a computer rat from Brooks/Cole Publishing who can teach basic operant conditioning principles to psychology students.
    • “PracticeRat” from Sharpoint is a synthetic simulation of blood vessels and nerves which can be used by students as well as experienced surgeons who would like to perfect their microsurgical skills.
    • A canine spinal surgery model, which is actually a foam replication of the back and upper hindquarters of a dog, has been developed by Dr. Robert Leighton of the University of California, Davis.
    • Koken Rabbit, manufactured by the Koken Co., Ltd. of Japan, is a model of a female New Zealand white rabbit which simulates a rabbit’s anatomy. Constructed of silicone and soft, fur-like material, Koken Rabbit was designed to assist in the training for handling peroral dosage, intravenous injections and blood collection, urethral catheterization and orotracheal intubation.

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Which U.S. medical schools do not use animals to train their medical students?

In 1986, the American Medical Student Association adopted a resolution supporting a student’s right to choose an alternative activity to dissection and to be free from penalties or faculty intimidation when they refuse to dissect. Nearly 90% of U.S. medical schools—including Yale, Harvard and Stanford—do not use any animals to train medical students.

All but four medical schools in the entire country offer their students non-animal alternatives -- the University of Mississippi, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and Oregon Health and Science University.

Furthermore, animal dissection or experimentation on live animals is not required or expected of those applying to medical school.  Medical students are trained with a combination of observation, sophisticated human simulators, interactive computer programs, and clinical experience.  Today, one can even become a board-certified surgeon without harming any animals. Some medical professional organizations like the American Board of Anesthesiologists even require physicians to complete simulation training—not animal laboratories—to become board-certified. 

In the United Kingdom , it's against the law for medical (and veterinary) students to practice surgery on animals.
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© 2013 National Anti-Vivisection Society is a
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53 West Jackson Blvd., Suite 1552
Chicago, IL 60604
(800) 888-NAVS or (312) 427-6065
Fax: (312) 427-6524
navs@navs.org
© 2013 National Anti-Vivisection Society is a
501(c)3 non-profit organization