Animal dissections for science classes at Milken have been occurring for many years now. Each year as part of the anatomy unit, the biology honors classes dissect rats and the Anatomy and Physiology class dissects fetal pigs. Occasionally, smaller organisms such as squid, flowers or insects are dismembered too.
Students and teachers have acknowledged the benefits and disadvantages of dissecting animals for educational purposes. Some believe that it could benefit them educationally, while others feel it does not benefit them and just makes them uncomfortable.
Dissecting animals has been known to make some students anxious and uncomfortable.
“Dissecting animals makes me uncomfortable because they were living at one time. They are just like humans. Sure, they might be less sophisticated, but they have organs just like we do. It seems inhumane to me. I hate seeing blood come out of biological creatures. Also, we eat some animals! I can’t imagine dissecting a cow or a chicken,” Jeremey Mintz ’13 said.
Animal dissections also encourage animal cruelty and neglect. According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a 1997 study of seventh graders found that fetal pig dissections encouraged hostility toward animals and additionally stopped students from wanting to pursue a science career.
“It really bothers me when students start to chop things up. It’s totally disgusting to me,” Mr. Roger Kassebaum, director of the Mitchell Academy of Science and Technology, said.
In addition to animal cruelty, demands for dissection increase extinction of animals which are already endangered species. Analysts estimate that there is demand for nearly six million frogs for dissection in the US each year.
Teachers understand that dissection is not for everyone.
“I think that it shouldn’t be taken lightly,” Mr. Pavel Lieb, science teacher, said. “It’s not an easy thing for people to accept. What I started doing is before a dissection we have Biology ethics debates to express student’s emotions and opinions.”
There are other alternatives available for students, such as online virtual dissections, where an animal doesn’t have to die over and over again and one can still study the parts of its body. Some students find these alternatives positive and effective substitutes.
“I did not finish the dissection. I happily completed an alternative assignment. I could not go through with it. It makes me sick. I don’t enjoy talking, or even thinking about blood and organs (and how they work). How am I supposed to deal with it hands on?” Mintz said.
The basic advantage in dissecting animals in person is the tactile factor that students receive from physically feeling the animal.
“Things you can touch usually stick in your head better,” Dr. Damon Scoville, science teacher, said.
For students who want to study medicine and consider a career in the sciences, dissections in high school can benefit and inspire them to pursue their field of interest.
“If you are going to be a surgeon or veterinarian, that tactile feedback is likely important,” Kassebaum said.
Dissections can also possibly interest non-science oriented students who want to ace their next Biology test and feel as though dissecting animals will help them prepare and grasp the material for their test. Furthermore, they may be fascinating for students who are open to new educational hands-on experiences.
“After having dissected a rat, I felt I had gained a better understanding of anatomy and physiology, which was essentially the purpose of the lab to begin with. I knew that is was a betterment to my cache of knowledge, ” Zoe Lewin ’12 said.
Many of the science teachers agree that dissections provide an overall positive educational experience, while still accepting its potential downsides.
“From an educational perspective, there’s almost no downside to dissection. The only downside would be if someone has a personal objection to it,” Mr. Patrick Lindsey, AP Biology teacher, said.