A recent petition at George Washington University supported a non-biology major's right to opt-out of dissection without penalty.
Animal dissection has been a part of the United States' educational curriculum since the early 1900s. It became implemented as a way to allow students with a tactile experience, who will increase retention of the education material, to become inspired to enter a scientific field.
UCF spokeswoman Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala said UCF dissection classes are only required of biology or biology-related majors, such as pre-med and pre-vet school. "Non-biology majors are not required to take classes that include dissection. ... Human anatomy uses plastic models and some software," she said.
The National Science Teachers Association supports students working firsthand with animals, as it can spark a student's interest in science, as well as a general respect for life. However, the idea of gaining a respect for life by methodically cutting open and taking apart an animal might be flawed. A 2004 study analyzed the psychological effect of animal dissections on students who believed dissection was ethically, morally or religiously wrong. The study showed that students who were forced to use animals in ways they viewed as negative or harmful had several seemingly averse reactions.
"Their cognitive abilities may become impaired, resulting in less learning. They may withdraw and lose interest in science when not given the option to conscientiously object," according to a study by the New England Anti-Vivisection Society and Ethical Science Education Coalition. "Students — even those who believe they are willing participants — can become desensitized and may develop a utilitarian view of animals, thereby diminishing their capacity for compassion and ethical decision-making."
While animal dissection may have negative effects on the participants, there are many alternatives to animal dissection such as virtual reality or physical models that are just as educationally effective, if not more so, that don't require students to go against their morals or beliefs. Alternatives to animal dissection have shown increased time efficiency of the education material and lower costs of the educational facility. Some believe the physical act of animal dissection can increase the retention of educational material as mentioned earlier, but the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine doesn't agree.
"Dissection lacks a key step in the learning process — repetition. Once an animal is cut apart, the exercise cannot be done again. However, computerized techniques allow students to explore human or animal anatomy as often as they like, until they have fully grasped the information," according to the PCRM. There does not seem to be a compelling reason for non-biology majors to dissect an animal when the dissection will have no benefit on the future career of the student or the student's understanding of the material. Animal dissection doesn't seem to hold up when fully examined. The National Science Teachers Association is still researching the effectiveness of animal dissection and its alternatives. It currently supports teachers providing those alternatives to students who feel uncomfortable with dissection.
There seems to be no reason for universities to require non-biology majors to dissect animals when there is evidence proving the alternatives to be equally, if not more, effective.
Alissa Smith is a contributing writer for the Central Florida Future.