Many years ago, when students at a high school participation in government class were asked to invite outside speakers to debate controversial issues, I accepted this opportunity to discuss why I believe schools and colleges should stop purchasing animal specimens for teaching biology and should instead use lifelike, 3-D plastic models with removable parts and/or interactive computer programs.
I showed the class a People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals video, “Classroom Cut-ups,” which depicted, among other abominations, workers at a dissection supply house embalming animals — from cats to crabs — while they were still alive.
Frogs are usually dropped into an alcohol solution, which takes about 20 painful minutes to cause death.
According to Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, the formaldehyde used to preserve the animals’ bodies can harm people exposed to it. Formaldehyde is a carcinogenic irritant to eyes, skin, throat, lungs and nasal passages.
The National Association of Biology Teachers has urged educational institutions to offer alternatives to dissection.
I shared all of this with the students, and asked if their biology class dissection experiences helped them learn biology. Most replied no.
Finger Lakes Community College is not one of the 26 colleges in our state with written policies allowing students to avoid the performance or witnessing of dissection. Students who have moral objections to being directly or indirectly involved in cruel exploitation of animals at FLCC have told me they are fearful their semester grades will suffer if they protest or request alternatives. It saddens me that FLCC biology teachers don’t agree with Adelphi University biology professor George Russell, who wrote that “dissection not only fails to promote reverence for life, but encourages the tendency to blaspheme it” by desensitizing students to cruelty and to the sanctity of life.
It also saddens me that FLCC biology and environmental conservation faculty have worked with many other colleges to revamp their science programs to include research that harms and kills animals. To study “the biodiversity of insects in the Finger Lakes region,” FLCC students and faculty gather live insects, freeze them to death and then check each insect’s DNA with an international database.
My opposition to such vivisection — injurious use of animals for research or experimentation — prompted me to speak out against Canandaigua City Council’s support for turning Gibson Street Park into a vivisection laboratory to assist a Cornell University Ph.D. student with her dissertation. Her study of the effect of landscape on wild bee populations will require her to freeze to death hundreds of healthy bees.
At the council’s environmental/parks committee meeting April 18, the student said it was necessary to kill some bees in order to enhance the welfare of other bees that are so essential to our ecosystem, but she was vague as to how this would be accomplished.
At a time when many beekeepers in our locality are witnessing the collapse of bee colonies, why not study already-dead bees to deal with this serious problem, rather than allowing the killing of healthy bees that should have the same right to life as we have?
Dissection and vivisection are forms of cruelty to animals that are usually expensive, unnecessary and counterproductive. And even in the rare cases that they may have some scientific relevance, it is well to recall the words of George Bernard Shaw: “Vivisection is a social evil because if it advances human knowledge, it does so at the expense of human character.”
Joel Freedman, of Canandaigua, is a frequent Messenger Post contributor.