Cut Out Dissection: Opt for Humane, Effective Alternatives
Every year, millions of frogs, cats, mice, rats, worms, dogs, rabbits, fetal pigs, and fishes are used in classroom dissections. With each animal they slice open; students learn to disrespect and devalue other sentient beings. Biology is the study of life and young people learn nothing about life by cutting into dead animals.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />Because dissection is inhumane and unnecessary, it has fallen under increased scrutiny and more and more students are becoming conscientious objectors. Schools in California, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia, as well as school districts in Austin, Tex., Columbus, Ohio, and Clark County, Nev., have implemented dissection choice laws and policies that allow students to refuse to participate in dissections and other classroom exercises that are harmful to animals. Opt for Alternatives In general, student choice laws require schools to notify students and/or their parents at the beginning of a course if a dissection is planned; allow students to choose humane alternatives; and protect students from being penalized if they refuse to dissect. Although students in other states and students in some private schools, colleges, and universities are not covered by these laws, they can still get an alternative. Students simply cannot be forced to harm animals. This right is protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution—a legal precedent established in1987 by then California high school student Jenifer Graham, who was outraged when she received a lower grade because she refused to dissect a frog in biology class. She filed a lawsuit against the school board and a lengthy legal battle ensued, but, thanks to Jenifer’s determination and perseverance, the state of California signed a bill into law in 1998 mandating alternatives be granted to elementary and secondary students opposed to dissection on moral grounds.
Jenifer’s case against her school was settled without a trial and she was awarded a reinstatement of her grade. She received an “A.” Her high school was ordered to pay her legal fees. Jenifer’s actions even inspired an award-winning CBS School Break special entitled Frog Girl: The Jenifer Graham Story. But perhaps most importantly, Jenifer paved the way for other students to object to dissection.
Fight for Your Right Not to DissectIf you’re a student and you find out a dissection is planned in your class, meet with your teacher as soon as possible, politely tell him or her that you cannot participate because of your “sincerely held religious and moral beliefs about the sanctity of all life.” (This wording will meet the five criteria protected under the First Amendment. If you are interested in the legal details, please see “Students’ Rights and the First Amendment Guarantee of Freedom of Religion: A Brief Review of a Student’s Claim” by experts with the Animal Rights Law Project at Rutgers University School of Law: http://www.animal-law.org/srco/stdrts.htm).
Ask for a non-animal alternative. It is important to state your position in writing and keep copies of all correspondence and take detailed notes at meetings. Research alternatives beforehand, and show that you’re willing to spend an equivalent amount of time and effort learning the lesson using a humane alternative. Make it clear that observing a dissection isn’t an acceptable alternative—it’s indirect participation.Using computer software and books to learn biology is not only more humane, it’s safer, more accurate, and more economical since many students can make use of one CD-ROM whereas dissection requires that multiple animals be purchased time after time.DissectionWorks from ScienceWorks (scienceclass.com) includes an interactive computer simulation of frog, earthworm, crayfish, perch, fetal pig, and cat dissections. VisiFrog from Ventura Educational Systems (www.venturaes.com) includes an identification game and a self-quiz. Operation Frog by Scholastic, Inc. (www.scholastic.com) simulates an actual dissection on the computer. The Digital Frog (www.digitalfrog.com) is a fully interactive CD-ROM that allows students to explore the frog through three seamlessly linked modules—dissection, anatomy, and ecology.
Body Works (www.denoyer.com) offers a computer program that explores the body’s systems, structure, and functions. Sniffy the Virtual Rat (www.psychology.wadsworth.com/sniffy) is a unique computer program that allows students to explore psychology using a “virtual rat.” CatLab (www.itgworld.com) is a fully interactive, multimedia dissection of a cat. Great American Bullfrog (www.denoyer.com) is a large-scale model with numbered parts and key card. Circulatory, reproductive, and other systems can be separately dissected. Biology Chart Series (www.denoyer.com) includes detailed charts of a dissected frog, perch, crayfish, grasshopper, earthworm, etc. Some animal protection organizations, including The Humane Society of the United States, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, The American Anti-Vivisection Society, and The Ethical Science and Education Coalition, loan humane alternatives to students and schools. The National Anti-Vivisection Society also offers a toll-free Dissection Hotline at 1-800-922-FROG (3764). The Curriculum Director of Santa Fe’s Public Schools has said “There is really no reason in this day and age to carve up animals. I support them [the students] actually.” If your instructor isn’t receptive to your concerns, proceed up the chain of command: Write to the principal, the superintendent, even the whole school board if necessary. Provide copies of all correspondence to every school official you meet with.Pass around a petition, hand out leaflets, set up an information table, and show PETA’s anti-dissection video, “Classroom Cut-Ups,” to your teacher, classmates, or a member of the administration. (You can borrow a copy of the video, and get a free “Cut Out Dissection” pack, by e-mailing email@example.com).If school officials still think that they can violate your rights, it may be necessary to contact the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF). The ALDF may be able to put you in touch with an attorney in your area who can help. Most cases don’t need to go to court; they can often be settled with a phone call from an attorney. Fortunately, however; with a growing number of students speaking out against dissection, schools are becoming increasingly receptive to alternatives. Sometimes all you have to do to get an alternate project is ask. While it can never hurt to ask, it can hurt countless animals not too.