Debating dissection

Alexandra Chertok, Staff Writer

With a shiny silver scalpel in one gloved hand and an instruction manual in the other, I made the first incision.

The first specimen I remember dissecting was a flower. Separating the stamen and pistil was simple enough. Then came an owl pellet, a sea lamprey, a trout, and eventually, a fetal pig. I remember feeling somewhat uncomfortable at the idea of cutting up a mammal, but I didn’t want to miss out on what seemed like a rite of passage in biology class.

My class was told that all the pigs died naturally. How so many fetal pigs could die “naturally” in a way that supplies thousands of classrooms with the right amount of material to dissect, we were not told.

“What you don’t know can’t hurt you,” I told myself, and promptly forgot about my questions for the next few class periods while I completed the fetal pig dissection — more accurately, while I watched half-intrigued and half-disgusted as I let my lab partner follow most of the instructions.

I’m sure more students would be opposed to dissection if they were aware of where the animals really came from. As it turns out, the idea that fetal pigs die “naturally” refers to the fact that they are by-products of the meat industry, which cannot be considered natural at all. According to the Humane Society of the United States, a majority of pigs are raised in crowded, confined conditions throughout their short lives. Their fetuses are taken when they are killed in slaughterhouses, which are also responsible for contributing to greenhouse gases and contaminating water supplies. Although the fetal pigs haven’t been born yet, their mothers clearly aren’t freely rolling around in the mud like the pigs of our favorite childhood stories.

And how much do students really learn from animal dissection?

Perhaps dissection at a higher level can lead to important biological discoveries. However, at a high school level, information gathered from dissections is already well known by the scientific community, so online dissection simulations are just as informative.

Normalizing the process of dissection in high schools encourages a lack of respect for animals while desensitizing us to animal cruelty. While they are meant to serve a strictly educational purpose and students are told to respect animals, many get carried away and spend more time playing with the insides than paying attention to the anatomy. At the dissection, the animal remnants end up in plastic bags that are tossed into garbage cans, mixed in with leftover sandwich crusts and eraser shavings.

It’s incredibly ironic that we are supporting such a pointlessly cruel and environmentally damaging industry in the same class where we learn about our ecological impact.