The Physicians Committee


When dissection was first introduced into the classroom, educators believed it would help students learn better. Now, many teachers realize that alternative methods not only are humane, but provide a superior educational experience.

Several countries, including Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark, Slovakia, and Argentina, have banned dissection of animals at the secondary school level. Other countries, such as Hong Kong, Australia, India, and Italy, have removed dissection from the mandated curricula, allowing for students to opt out of dissection with no penalty. According to a 2003 assessment by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, eighth-grade students in the Netherlands, Hong Kong, and Australia perform as well as or better than American eighth-graders in science. Denmark, Argentina, India, and Italy did not participate in the study.

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. Computer software can now provide detailed, sophisticated graphics, highly interactive features, videos, and in-depth accompanying text.

Today’s synthetic animal models include colorful, life-size, 3-D replicas with labeled pieces that allow the student to hold and replace organs and tissues again and again.

In addition to virtual programs and models, there are also many “real-life” teaching options available. Many veterinary and human surgical practices involve students in their work and are willing to host mentorship programs where students can observe surgeries and see the daily activities of the operating room. Universities are also often willing to host similar programs, where activities can include observing autopsies or using high-tech simulators.