Dissection in Schools

Dissection involves the dismembering of a deceased animals body, to gain an understanding of its anatomical structure. Most commonly, whole fetal pigs, rats, rabbits, birds, cats and aquatic species are used, and parts of cows, sheep, and bulls, such as the eyes, lungs, and testicles. This historic practice was incorporated in school curriculums in the 1920’s, and has no added benefits to current student learning. An increasing amount of educators, researchers, philosophers and students have questioned the validity and ethics of this practice.

“We seem to now teach anatomy in exactly the same way that it was being taught at the end of the dark ages. Specifically, students look at bodies of animals, but are not encouraged in any way to make real observations. Instead, they are encouraged to look for what is already known and then if it does not look quite right, do depict it the way it ‘should’ look”
– Rob Dunn (2013)

The Issues
Our Solution
What Is Wrong with Dissection? Dissection causes suffering and invariably leads to death. Although students customarily will not witness either of these, it is a prerequisite to performing a dissection. It is unnecessary, nurtures indifference, and depreciates the lives of nonhuman animals. Dissection Promotes Apathy, Detachment and Desensitisation Most animals used in schools, colleges, and universities in Australia are killed and dissected. The number of animals used in this way exceeds the thousands. The fact that worldwide, millions of animals are used for dubious and unnecessary dissection preserves the idea that animals are mere objects or things humans can use without ethical or moral consideration. Maintaining and encouraging this ethos has the danger of inculcating in students detachment and apathy towards animals. Dissection is a Reckless use of Invaluable Funds and Viable Alternatives are Available As Humane Research Australia explains, dissection involves an inherent economic catch: an animal can only be dissected once. There are expanding developments in alternatives to dissection, whose costs are negligible when compared to the use of animals. According to HRA, substituting dissection for technological programs or 3-D models can result in savings that exceed thousands of dollars. The range and applicability of various alternative methods are documented by Last Chance for Animals (LCA), who list observation of wild animals, anatomical models, videos, books, and online kits are ethically and financially viable alternatives to dissection. The National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS) set up the Biology Education Advancement Program (BioLEAP) in 1993 to assist educators and students by providing an inventory and free lending library of alternatives to dissection. An analysis by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine noted that “alternatives cost thousands less than dissection, last for years, and several groups of students can use them simultaneously during each academic year”[32]. The report acknowledged that the cost of setting up such a system may, initially, exceed the prior costs of dissection, but maintained that over time they “reap financial benefits”. The following table is an estimate of the benefits of converting dissection systems to a computer-based program (‘Dissectionworks’): https://www.animal-lib.org.au/campaigns/animals-for-science/dissection-in-schools Table sourced from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine ‘Cost Analysis’ report Dissection is archaic and does not guarantee results A growing number of academic studies have proven that alternative methods that do not use animals result in similar or better results for students. For examples of these studies, visit the Humane Society’s list available to view here. This is perhaps due to the fact that such methods can be replicated and allows students to further explore the functions and processes that amount to life. Outside Australia
  • Argentina, 1987: Dissection was banned from being performed in schools.
  • Italy: In 1992, a number of Italian laboratory workers campaigned for the law to recognise the legal right of conscientious objection, resulting in Italian Law 413, the first law of it’s kind in permitting workers to refuse to be associated with any action involving animal experimentation. Since 2005 three-quarters of Italian universities have discontinued using live animals for educational experiments. Thus, Italian law granted the right of conscientious objection in 1993.
  • Slovakia, 1995: Dissection was banned from being performed in all primary and secondary schools.
  • India, 1996: the High Court of Delhi bans animal dissection.
  • Israel, 1999: Minister for Education Yossi Sarid announces a ban on the experimentation on animals in schools, citing the development of ‘virtual’ methods of teaching anatomy that make dissection unnecessary.
As Humane Research Australia (HRA) explains, the majority of Australian students will be asked to dissect an animal during their high school biology class, or tertiary studies of medicine and veterinary science, despite it not being considered as an essential component of the degree, as stated by the State Education Department. Despite this, many Australian university campuses continue to practice experimentation in their curriculum. Our goal is to make it known that any student asked to perform a dissection in Australia, has the right to refuse and cannot be academically punished for this decision. It is known that in an average class, as many as 5% of students will orally raise an objection to the procedure, whilst a higher percentage will be silently against it. In one study it was found that 48% of students between the ages of 11 and 16 agreed with the statement that “it is wrong to dissect dead animals for teaching”.