Karen B. London
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The University of Cincinnati is a role model for other schools in choosing not to use purpose-bred animals for educational purposes. Dogs and cats, as well as other species of animals, have long been bred in horrendous conditions for profit. These animals have been used for surgeries and dissections to train each generation of veterinarians (as well as biologists and physicians), who go into the field, ironically enough, because of their great love for animals. Hopefully, many other institutions will follow UC’s example.
The use of animals bred in laboratories for students’ education has long been a controversial issue. One big issue is whether using such animals is morally acceptable. That question concerns whether or not there are equally good ways, such as videos or computer simulations, for students to learn the same information. This question is an interesting one because as much as I always hated dissections, there is no doubt that many students, including me, have learned a great deal from them—just not enough to make it worth it to me.
Another issue is whether other animals are available who were not bred for this purpose. For example, can veterinary students learn to spay and neuter shelter animals who require the procedure anyway?
As a high school student and as an undergraduate biology major, I participated in some really yucky dissections. By junior year, I realized that I wasn’t comfortable with the process. I made a big effort to avoid working on animals bred in labs and still complete my major. That is, I took plant physiology instead of animal physiology. I took a class on the biology of higher vascular plants instead of animal anatomy. And finally I took a class on marine algae instead of a class on neurology. All of these choices allowed me to avoid working with frogs, mice, sharks and cats either in dissection labs or in other ways, such as using internal electrodes to monitor these animals while alive.
If you have done dissections or surgeries as part of your education, was it worth it to you? Do you think students should be required to perform them, or should they have other options? Do you consider the source of the animals used in education to be important?