More Animal Dissections in Schools than Ever?

Washington Post writer Valerie Strauss has an interesting look at the current state of animal dissection in American schools. Among other things, the article suggests that animal dissections are more common now than ever, in part due to the popularity of animal dissection at lower grade levels.

The article claims that,

Across the country, more dissections are performed than ever before, according to the advocates and critics of dissection. The nonprofit Humane Society estimates that 6 million vertebrate animals are dissected in U.S. high schools alone; the number of dissections of invertebrate animals is probably comparable, it says.

Unfortunately, Strauss doesn’t include any information on estimates of animals dissected over time, so readers have to take her word for it. Moreover, the increase in animals dissected over a much earlier time could represent the large increase in population in the United States over the past few decades rather than any genuine increase in the popularity/prevalence of animal dissection.

One genuine change appears to be an increasing number of animal dissections at the middle and elementary school level (the first time I remember doing an animal dissection was in the 7th grade).

Of course animal rights activists argue for replacing animal dissections with computer models of the same, and 9 states require students who object to animal dissection to be given some sort of non-animal alternative. But Kenneth Roy, chair of the Science Safety Advisory Board of the National Science Teachers Association, defends animal dissection,

I would use the example of driving a real car versus a driving simulation on a computer or in a game room machine. The real-time dissection provides awareness to all of the senses — touch especially — texture, form, etc.


When cutting up in class is okay. Valerie Strauss, Washington Post, March 5, 2007.

Virginia Schools Required to Provide Alternatives to Dissection

Virginia students go back to school this year with a new legal mandate to provide alternatives to animal dissection to students who request them.

Earlier this year, the Virginia legislature approved and the governor signed a bill requiring local school boards to create guidelines for providing alternatives to dissection. All students who might be asked to dissect an animal must be notified that they have the option to opt for a non-animal alternative such as a computer program or plastic model.

According to the Associated Press, Virginia is the eighth state to require the offering of such alternatives.

The full text of the new law requiring alternatives to dissection can be read here.


Virginia requires dissection alternatives.Associated Press, September 6, 2004.

Massachusetts Governor Vetoes Anti-Dissection Bill

The New England Anti-Vivisection Society reports that Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney vetoed a dissection choice bill over the weekend.

The bill would have required all Massachusetts public schools that include dissection as part of a class activity to offer non-animal alternatives for those who object to dissection.

NEAVS quotes Romney as saying in his veto message,

. . . biomedical research is an important component of the CommonwealthÂ’s economy and job creation. This bill would send the unintended message that animal research is frowned upon

NEAVS’ Theodora Capaldo replied in a press release that,

Governor Romney didn’t even attempt to hide his fiscal
priorities using the typical rhetoric that his decision was for the health and well being
of the people. Rather, he told it like it is: itÂ’s all about money, period.

. . .

In allaying the irrational fears of the biotech
industry, the governor may have shot himself in the foot with a large contingent of voters
who care more about studentsÂ’ rights to be compassionate than a wealthy companyÂ’s
profit margin.

The full text of the proposed law can be read here.


Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney — Busy Signing Books While Refusing to Sign Laws. Press Release, New England Anti-Vivisection Society, August 3, 2004.

Can Worms Suffer?

This weekend I happened to be watching cartoons on the WB Network. Several times during the commercial breaks an anti-dissection advertisement paid for by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. In the ad, which features WB actor David Gallagher, Gallagher makes the absurd claim that worms can suffer.

Gallagher explains that around the country many students are asked to dissect rabbits and other animals. As an aside, Gallahger adds that kids are also asked to dissect worms and assures the viewer that they can suffer too (PETA has a RealVideo version of the advertisement linked from this page).

When opponents of animal rights point out that the claims made for higher order animals will inevitably lead to protection for even insects and other lower forms of life, they are accused of using a straw man. But here’s the largest animal rights organization in the United States explicitly backing the view that even a worm can suffer and should be given special protections.

There really is no end to the absurdities that animal rights ultimately entails.

Cornell President on Animal Dissection Policy

Animal rights activists
have been agitating at Cornell University to ban animal |dissection| and
several weeks ago attempted to disrupt a biology lab class. In February,
Cornell president Hunter Rawlings sent an excellent letter to Cornell
Students for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, politely making the case
for the continuation of the animal dissection policy.

Cornell already offers students
in most classes alternatives to animal dissection. Only students taking
physiology courses must perform animal dissections. According to Rawlings,
though, even when offered alternatives, most students prefer the live dissections. Of
525 students who took Cornell’s introductory Biology 103, for example,
only 20 chose not to participate in the dissections.

Rawlings also noted that,
contrary to the student activist’s claims, classes were informed a week
prior to the dissections of the upcoming dissections and instructed to
discuss the matter privately with their instructors after class if they
wanted to choose an alternative.

Finally, Rawlings punctures
the oft-made claim that available alternatives to animal dissection are
more than adequate to completely replace live dissection. Rawlings wrote,

It is also important to note that many of the Biological Sciences
faculty agree that existing alternatives to dissection are almost universally
inferior to the level of quality appropriate for Cornell courses or are
otherwise unacceptable … In many cases, and in certain upper level courses,
they say, adequate alternative materials are simply not available … While
alternatives are available in the introductory general biology course,
I cannot accept your position that the university must adopt a policy
that all Cornell courses offer an alternative to animal dissection when
such a requirement is determined by the responsible faculty member to
be an essential element of the course of instruction.