Waste and Cruelty of Dissection

A “Rite of Passage” That is Simply Wrong

It’s cruel, it’s unnecessary, and it costs the lives of untold millions of animals every year. So why is dissection still practiced in our nation’s classrooms? And what is it really teaching our children?

Animal dissection has been routinely practiced in American biology classrooms since the 1920s. It continues despite the availability of modern, non-animal teaching methods that have been recognized to be more effective than traditional animal dissection. As a result, millions of animals are used as dissection specimens every year, many of whom were killed specifically for this purpose. 

Dissection remains a prevalent practice, with 81% of biology educators reporting use of dissection as a teaching tool during past school years, according to a recent NAVS survey. This prevalent use of dissection in the classroom demonstrates how deeply-rooted this classroom tradition truly is, despite the many reasons to object to this wasteful and cruel practice. 

Among the problems: 

Dissection instills a view that animal life is expendable.

First and foremost, dissection teaches students that animal lives have little importance. Traditional dissection indoctrinates the idea that cutting open animals is “fun,” and prioritizes “hands-on” exploitation of animals over teaching respect for living creatures.

Dissection is academically unnecessary.

Studies show that students who utilize humane dissection alternatives, such as models and computer software, score as well or better on performance tests than students who participate in dissection. Additionally, no state board of education requires participation in dissection as a condition of graduation, and no college or university stipulates dissection participation as a prerequisite for entrance.

Dissection is hazardous to the environment.

The collection of animals for dissection exercises has negative consequences on the environment. India banned dissection at the university level “to prevent the disruption of bio-diversity” and to maintain “ecological balance.” The collection of frogs to be used as dissection specimens has depleted many local populations, leading some areas to outlaw their commercial harvesting. Chemicals used to preserve biological specimens also risk ending up in our nation’s ground and waterways following their disposal.  

Dissection harms animals.

While the exact number is unknown, dissection requires the killing of an estimated 12 million animals annually in the U.S. alone. Frogs—the most commonly used animals for dissection exercises—are harvested and killed specifically for biological study. Fish and sharks are also captured from the wild by fishermen who sell their dead bodies to biological supply companies to make a profit.

Dissection is still considered a tradition and a rite of passage for many American high school students. Unfortunately, many people never stop to think about where animals used in dissection exercises come from, nor do they consider the ramifications of this wasteful and cruel practice. 

You Can Make a Difference!

Even if you’re not a student or teacher, and whether or not you have a background in science, there are positive, meaningful and effective steps you can take right now to help advance humane practices at science fairs:

  • Volunteer to be a judge at a local school or regional science fair.
  • Get involved in science fair planning at your local school.
  • Offer to mentor a student working on a project.
  • Encourage your own children, as well as children of friends and relatives, to enter their schools’ science fairs with projects that do not cause harm to animals.
  • Lobby your local science fair authorities to disallow invasive experiments on animals.
  • Spread this all-important message: Students can get excited about science without hurting animals.