A FIGHT FOR THE FETAL PIGS: PUTTING K-12 ANIMAL DISSECTIONS IN THE PAST

Amy O’Brien

We all remember that middle school biology class. The one where the teacher divided us up into pairs, instructed us to put on our safety goggles and plastic gloves, and emerged from the supply closet with bags of fetal pigs soaked in formaldehyde. At this point, some of us ran out of the room crying, while others enthusiastically embraced the opportunity to extract the organs from these lifeless creatures.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated or uncommon scene. In fact, estimates suggest that as many as 10 to 12 million animals are bred and harvested every year for classroom dissections. Recently, animal rights advocates and lawmakers have fought back against the school systems and the scientific community, seeking to change state laws and policies pertaining to classroom dissection.

In response to animal cruelty concerns, some states have enacted “student choice” policies, giving students the option to opt out of dissection in exchange for another educational project. California is one of those states. Under current California law, students with “moral objections” to animal dissection can participate in an “alternative education project,” which includes films, books, three-dimensional software, and the like. However, in February 2019, state assembly member Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) sought to go further by introducing a bill, titled the Replacing Animals in Science Education Act, which would amend the California state education code to outlaw animal dissection in K-12 schools. The bill defines dissection as “the viewing of the, or act of, dismembering or otherwise destructive use of an invertebrate or vertebrae animal, in part or in whole, preserved or freshly killed, in the study of biological sciences.” If the Replacing Animals in Science Education Act passes in the California legislature, the state will become a frontrunner as the first state to adopt a law banning educational dissection in public and private schools in the state.

However, as grade-school animal dissection has historically been a widely accepted practice, many will ask: what is the harm? In response to this inquiry, three main considerations support the transition into ridding curriculum of animal dissection.

First, technology has advanced to the point where students can receive the same (if not a better) learning experience from three-dimensional technologies as they would from carving up the animal themselves. Gone are the days where we could only understand the inner anatomy of other species by pulling their dead bodies apart. Secondly, excessive classroom animal dissection is harmful to the environment. For example, many amphibians used for educational dissection are removed directly from their natural habitats and sold in to biological supply companies, resulting in population decline and ecosystem destruction. The U.S. Department of the Interior “identified removal of frogs from their natural habitats for dissection and vivisection as part of the reason for the lower amphibian population.” Finally, there is a detrimental moral component to classroom animal dissection that should be considered and evaluated. In allowing young, impressionable children to cut into animals and use their bodies for personal, educational gain, we are arguably teaching them that using other species for human benefit is acceptable. Moreover, this teaching further perpetuates the notion that using animals for scientific advancement is a necessary practice that must be preserved.

So, the question becomes, when alternatives exist to physical animal dissection, why would we choose to continue this unnecessary (and arguably barbaric) practice? The State of California has begun to pave the way towards an education system free from animal dissection in classrooms, and all other states should seek to follow suit by either adopting student-choice policies or laws banning school dissections altogether.

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