AR-FAQ - #84

#84 What about dissection; isn't it necessary for a complete education?

[PLANK A] Dissection refers to the practice of performing exploratory surgery on animals (both killed and live) in an educational context. The average person's experience of this practice consists of dissecting a frog in a high-school biology class, but fetal chipmunks, mice, rabbits, dogs, cats, pigs, and other animals are also used. Dissection accounts for the death of about 7 million animals per year. Many of these animals are bred in factory-farm conditions. Others are taken from their natural habitats. Often, strayed companion animals end up in the hands of dissectors. These animals suffer from inhumane confinement and transport, and are finally killed by means of gassing, neck-snapping, and other "inexpensive" methods. The practice of dissection is repulsive to many students and high-schoolers have begun to speak out against it. Some have even engaged in litigation (and won!) to assert a right to not participate in such unnecessary cruelty. California has a law giving students (through high school) the right to refuse dissection. The law requires an alternative to be offered and that the student suffer no sanctions for exercising this right. Having dealt with the sub-question "What is dissection?", let's consider whether it is necessary for a complete education.

[PLANK B] There are several very effective alternatives to dissection. In some cases, these alternatives are more effective than dissection itself. Larger-than-life models, films and videos, and computer simulations are all viable methods of teaching biological principles. The latter option, computer simulation, has the advantage of offering an additional interactive facility that has shown great value in other educational contexts. These alternative methods are often cheaper than the traditional practice of dissection. A computer program can be used indefinitely for a one-time purchase cost; the practice of dissection presents an ongoing expense. In view of these effective alternatives, and the economic gains associated therewith, the practice of dissection begins to look more and more like a rite of passage into the world of animal abuse, almost a fraternity initiation for future vivisectors. This practice desensitizes students to animal suffering and teaches them that animals can be used and discarded without respect for their lives. Is this the kind of lesson we want to teach our children? JLS/DG

[PLANK C] Dissecting animals is often described as necessary for the complete education of surgeons. This is nonsense. Numerous surgeons have stated that practicing on animals does not provide adequate skills for human surgery. For example, dogs are the favorite test animal of surgery students, yet their body shape is different, the internal arrangement of their organs is different, the elasticity of their tissues under the scalpel is different, and postoperative effects are different (they are less prone to infection, for one thing). Also, many surgeons have suggested that practicing on animals may induce in the mind of the student a casual attitude to suffering. Following are the thoughts of several prestigious surgeons on this issue. AECW

...wounds of animals are so different from those of [humans] that the conclusions of vivisection are absolutely worthless. They have done far more harm than good in surgery. Lawson Tait

Any person who had to endure certain experiments carried out on animals which perish slowly in the laboratories would regard death by burning at the stake as a happy deliverance. Like every one else in my profession, I used to be of the opinion that we owe nearly all our knowledge of medical and surgical science to animal experiments. Today I know that precisely the opposite is the case. In surgery especially, they are of no help to the practitioner, indeed he is often led astray by them. Professor Bigelow

...the aim should be to train the surgeon using human patients by moving gradually from stage to stage of difficulty and explicitly rejecting the acquisition of skills by practicing on animals...which is useless and dangerous in the training of a thoracic surgeon. Professor R. J. Belcher

Practice on dogs probably makes a good veterinarian, if that is the kind of practitioner you want for your family. William Held

[End surgeon quotes]

Animal life, somber mystery. All nature protests against the barbarity of man, who misapprehends, who humiliates, who tortures his inferior brethren. Jules Michelet (historian)

Mutilating animals and calling it 'science' condemns the human species to moral and intellectual hell...this hideous Dark Age of the mindless torture of animals must be overcome. Grace Slick (musician)

SEE ALSO: #77-#81, #92