A growing number of students, teachers, and parents are standing up against dissection, and they have some excellent reasons for doing so. It’s time to explore why ending animal dissection in Australian schools is long overdue.
Have you ever been told that you’ll have to dissect a preserved animal in your biology class at secondary school?
And if you plan to pursue biology, zoology, vet science, medicine, psychology, or other science subjects at university, brace yourself, because there might be even more, including live animal experimentation.
But here’s a question for you: Do you really want to dissect animals? If the answer is no then you are not alone.
What’s wrong with dissection?
It causes animal suffering and death
Every year in Australia , thousands of animals are killed in school, college and university courses. Rats, mice, pigs, chickens, frogs, toads and fish are among those most commonly used in dissection.
It devalues life
Dissection teaches that animals are throwaway objects. It teaches a profound disrespect for the life it aims to study. Many smart and caring students decide not to pursue careers in medicine, or nursing when they find out they are supposed to dissect animals. Dissection may be turning students away from professions where they are needed the most.
It is bad for the environment
Many of the animals harmed or killed for classroom use are caught in the wild. Populations of frogs have been declining seriously in recent years. Chemicals used to preserve animals are unhealthy, and can cause irritation to eyes, nose and throat.
It’s a waste of money
Dissection has a built in economic problem – you can dissect an animal only once. Alternatives such as computer simulations and models can be used over and over again. These materials, within a year or two will pay for themselves. For the average school or university, replacing dissection with alternatives can end up saving thousands of dollars.
It is not the best way to learn
A study to assess and summarise the currently available studies through the process of a systematic review found 50 relevant studies and established that in 90% of studies humane teaching methods were as or more effective than harmful animal use in achieving desired learning outcomes. These results are clear—there is no valid educational reason for continued harmful animal use in education and training (1). This is not surprising: alternative exercises can be repeated and show the continuous processes of life, such as how a heart beats that dissection can’t. Students spend more time playing around, joking and trying to gross one another out during dissection than learning anything. A further study (2) has confirmed these findings. The paper examined the educational merit of non-animal teaching methods compared with animal dissection. To do this, the authors identified peer-reviewed literature published between 2005 and 2020 that compared the educational value of non-animal teaching methods with dissection through assessments of student learning. The authors found that in 95% of the studies examined, students at all educational levels performed as well—and in most cases better—when they used non-animal teaching methods as compared to animal dissection
It is outdated
Dissection was introduced in the 1920’s. Since then, more sophisticated tools have been introduced which provide a better learning experience, cost less and don’t kill animals! Primary and secondary schools in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Argentina, Slovak Republic and Israel no longer carry out animal dissections
Animals bred or captured for dissection can suffer from the trauma of confinement, inadequate food and care, stressful transport conditions and inhumane killing methods. Housing, feeding and general care varies between suppliers.
Killing animals, as for dissection, may entail considerable suffering. Although students do not ordinarily witness or participate in the animal’s death, this death necessarily precedes any dissection. Supplying animals for dissection is big business.
Rats are most commonly used in dissection in Australian schools. They are inquisitive and intelligent. When confined in cages they do not have an opportunity for normal behaviour. These small but gentle and inquisitive animals feel pain and fear.
Some animals are specifically raised for dissection which contributes to a loss of lives. Even the use of animal parts from slaughterhouses, where animals have been killed for another purpose is based on the assumption that an animal’s life is expendable, and has no value except for human exploitation.
Read the HRA bulletin on dissection in schools.
Listen to the HRA podcast episode on dissection.
Watch Dr Elisabeth Ormondy’s ted talk discussing the implications of animal dissection in establishing animal use in science.
What can you do?
If you are a science student, ask your teacher/lecturer what the class requirements will be. If animal dissection or experimentation is part of the course, is it optional? Explain politely and firmly why you would like to do an alternative project. Be clear, be positive, and be respectful. The biggest problem your teacher may have with your request is not knowing what alternative to provide.
Offer to provide one – contact HRA for information on the Humane Education Loan Program (HELP), or give your teacher/lecturer the details.
- Work together with other students who want humane alternatives.
- Advocate for a Student Choice Policy
- Write letters to local and school/university newspapers and meet with your principal/dean and teachers/lecturers.
- Write a letter to your Minister for Education advocating for student choice policies and the phasing out of dissection
(1)The Educational Efficacy of Humane Teaching Methods: A Systematic Review of the Evidence (2020) https://www.mdpi.com/2076-2615/11/1/114
(2) Animal Dissection vs. Non-Animal Teaching Methods: A Systematic Review of Pedagogical Value (2022)
Elisabeth Ormandy et al The American Biology Teacher 84 (7): 399–404.
Education ministers by state:
AUSTRALIAN CAPITAL TERRITORY
The Hon Yvette Berry MLA
Minister for Education and Training
ACT Legislative Assembly
GPO Box 1020
Canberra ACT 2601
The Hon Prue Car, MP
Minister for Education & Early Learning
52 Martin Place
Sydney NSW 2000
The Hon Eva Lawler
Minister for Education
GPO Box 3146
Darwin NT 0801
The Hon Grace Grace
Minister for Education
PO Box 15033
CITY EAST QLD 4002
The Hon Blair Boyer, MP
Minister for Education,Training & Skills
GPO Box 1563
Adelaide SA 5001
The Hon. Roger Jaensch, MP
Minister for Education Children & Youth
808 Wilson Street
Burnie TAS 7320
The Hon. Natalie Hutchins, MP
Minister for Education
GPO Box 2217
Taylors Lakes VIC 3038
The Hon. Tony Buti
Minister for Education
5th Floor, Dumas House
2 Havelock Street
West Perth WA 6005