Top 3 Pros and Cons of Animal Dissection

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Source: Evan-Amos, “A Young Teen Girl in New York Shown Dissecting an Animal Eye as Part of a Class Based on Teaching Students about Optics,” wikimedia.org, Oct. 20, 2012

 

Dissecting a frog might be one of the most memorable school experiences for many students, whether they are enthusiastic participants, prefer lab time to lectures, or are conscientious objectors to dissection.

The use of animal dissection in education goes back as far as the 1500s when Belgian doctor Andreas Vesalius used the practice as an instructional method for his medical students. [1]

Animal dissections became part of American K-12 school curricula in the 1920s. About 75-80% of North American students will dissect an animal by the time they graduate high school. An estimated six to 12 million animals are dissected in American schools each year. [2] In at least 18 states and DC, K-12 students have the legal option to request an alternate assignment to animal dissection. [3]

While frogs are the most common animal for K-12 students to dissect, students also encounter fetal pigs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, minks, birds, turtles, snakes, crayfish, perch, starfish, and earthworms, as well as grasshoppers and other insects. Sometimes students dissect parts of animals such as sheep lungs, cows’ eyes, and bull testicles. [2]

Are animal dissections in K-12 schools crucial learning opportunities that encourage science careers and make good use of dead animals? Or are animal dissections unnecessary experiments that promote environmental damage when ethical alternatives exist?

American Bullfrogs are the most common frog dissected by American students.
Source: US Geological Survey, “American Bullfrog,” wikimedia.org, July 10, 2015

 

Discussion Questions – Things to Think About

 

  1. Several cultures, including those of many Native American tribes [24], consider animal dissection taboo. Consider animal dissection as a cultural matter. Which communities disagree with animal dissection for cultural or religious reasons? What is their reasoning? How can schools accommodate these cultural views while promoting STEM studies and careers to the communities? Explain your answers.
  2. ProCon.org has listed three pros and three cons above. What other pros and cons can you list? Brainstorm a list and then choose one pro or con to research and write a sourced and cited paragraph to support.
  3. Have you had to (or will you have to) dissect an animal for science class in school? What are your thoughts? Will you perform the dissection or ask for an alternative assignment? Explain your answers.
  4. Biological supply companies often use formaldehyde to preserve animals for dissection. According to Ken Roy, writing for the National Science Teaching Association, formaldehyde is “a known nasal and dermal carcinogen” and can cause allergy-related symptoms. Roy cautions, “no specimens that are preserved in formaldehyde should be used in middle school science!” [25] What safety precautions should be taken if animals preserved in formaldehyde are used in high school or college classrooms? Should animals be preserved in another way? Explain your answers
 
Footnotes:

  1. Sneha Mantri, “Holistic Medicine and the Western Medical Tradition,” journalofethics.ama.assn.org, Mar. 2008
  2. Jan Oakley, “Under the Knife: Animal Dissection as a Contested School Science Activity,” Journal for Activist Science & Technology Education, 2009
  3. American Anti-Vivisection Society, “Student Choice Laws,” aavs.org (accessed Apr. 2, 2020)
  4. Jan Oakley, “Science Teachers and the Dissection Debate: Perspectives on Animal Dissection and Alternatives,” International Journal of Environmental & Science Education, Apr. 2012
  5. Edu-Lab, “The Importance of Dissection in Biology,” edulab.com, Oct. 7, 2016
  6. American Psychological Association, “Resolution Reaffirming Support for Research and Teaching with Nonhuman Animals,” apa.org, Aug. 2017
  7. Nancy Averett, “High School Dissections Are a Science Class Tradition. But Are They Doing More Harm Than Good?,” discovermagazine.com
  8. Thomas Henley, “My Best Science Lesson: Dissecting Cow Brains to Explore Intelligence,” theguardian.com, Oct. 29, 2013
  9. Juliana Music, “PRO: Dissection Prepares Students for the Field of Biology,” wvgazettemail.com, May 2, 2014
  10. Ted Gregory and Susan Berger, “Is Dissecting a Frog in Science Class Ethical? Protesters Challenge the Long-Standing but Controversial Practice,” chicagotribune.com, June 1, 2018
  11. Animalearn, “Frequently Asked Questions,” animalearn.org (accessed Apr. 1, 2020)
  12. Carolina, “Dissection FAQs,” carolina.com, Mar. 2018
  13. National Anti-Vivisection Society, “Frequently Asked Questions,” navs.org (accessed Apr. 2, 2020)
  14. Editors of E Magazine, “Harvest of Shame,” emagazine.com, July 20, 2004
  15. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, “Dissection Alternatives for Students,” pcrm.org, Feb. 22, 2019
  16. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, “Last Remaining Medical School to Use Live Animals for Training Makes Switch to Human-Relevant Methods,” pcrm.org, June 30, 2016
  17. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, “Tell UW to Modernize Its Medical Training,” pcrm.org (accessed Apr. 1, 2020)
  18. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, “Statement from the Physicians Committee on Johns Hopkins University Eliminating the Use of Animals in Medical Training,” pcrm.org, May 18, 2016
  19. Ricki Lewis, “Instructors Reconsider Dissection’s Role in Biology Classes,” the-scientist.com, Nov. 9, 1997
  20. Julia Jacobo, “Florida High School Unveils Synthetic Frogs for Dissection in Biology Class,” abcnews.go.com, Nov. 26, 2019
  21. Mary Caton, “Villanova Students Try Hand at Virtual Frog Dissection,” windsorstar.com, Nov. 27, 2019
  22. Nicole Shine, “The Battle over High School Animal Dissection,” psmag.com, June 14, 2017
  23. AP, “Fake Frogs in School Dissections Eliminate Gross-Out-Factor,” wtop.com, Dec. 31, 2019
  24. Deborah H. Williams and Gerhard P. Shipley, “Cultural Taboos as a Factor in the Participation Rate of Native Americans in STEM,” International Journal of STEM Education,” Apr. 11, 2018
  25. Ken Roy, “Dissection: Don’t Cut out Safety,” nsta.org, Feb. 2, 2007