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Science And Technology

Dissection of Animals: Students Who Won't Dissect Them
-By Dirk Johnson


In the name of scientific enlightenment, biology students have been dissecting animals for generations.

In the name of scientific enlightenment, biology students have been dissecting animals for generations. For some, the procedure has solved some of the mysteries of life. For others, it was simply disgusting. Either way, it was mandatory.

But a rebellion has been growing in the science laboratories if the nation's schools as a growing number of students refuse to dissect animals, usually on the ground that it is inhumane.

"Animals are just as alive as we are," said Jasmine Dixon, an Indianapolis 11th grader who refused to dissect any animal in biology. 'They have feelings, they have families,"

Many states are now pondering bills that would allow students to complete alternative work in science if they oppose dissection of animals. Such laws have been enacted in California, Florida, Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania. The Illinois House of Representatives recently passed a similar bill, which is being debated in the State Senate.

Without such a law, students who refuse to dissect animals routinely face sanctions, or lowered grades, from science teachers.

Humane groups say lessons can be taught just as effectively with plastic models or computer simulations that is alternate way of dissection of animals, usually at a savings. But some scientists see it differently.

"Sometimes there just isn't any substitute for looking at the real thing." said Jose Bonner, an associate professor of biology at Indiana University in Bloomington.

The issue has become more heated in recent years as more and more young people refuse to eat meat or use animals products.

The debate over dissection of animals flared in 1987 when a 15-years-old California girl, Jennifer Graham, refused to dissect an animal and sued her school district for not allowing her to complete some alternative project.

She complained that animals were being needlessly killed simply to he used for such projects.

A state court ruled that the school could continue to require dissection of frogs in biology classes, but that only frogs that died naturally could he used.

Miss Graham became some-thing of a celebrity, often called "the frog girl." who had the courage to stand up to the schools in her defense of defenseless animates. The public hacked her, and lawmakers in California ultimately passed legislation protecting students who held such views, the first law of its kind in the United States.

Her mother, Pat Davis, runs the anti- dissection telephone line for students. Jonathan Balcombe, an asso­ciate director for education at the Humane Society of the United States, said growing unrest over dissection among environmentally conscious American students has forced many schools to offer an alternative.

About six million animals are killed each year for academic inquiry, Mr. Balcombe said. Frogs are used most commonly, but other animals, including cats, fetal pigs, rats and snakes, are also used for such purposes.

"We have a moral obligation not to mistreat animals," Mr. Balcombe said. "We should give them the benefit of the doubt that they feel pain and suffer."

In Illinois, State Representative Jeffrey M. Schoenberg, a sponsor of a hill in that state to protect students who object to dissection of animals, recalled with discomfort the dissections he did in biology classes at Ida Crown Jewish Academy in Chicago. "I remember it with my heart and with my stomach," said Mr. Schoenberg, 37. "And it usually takes a lot to make me squeamish."

Mr. Sehoenherg noted that options to animal dissection were offered to school children in Chicago and in many other school districts.

Miss Dixon, the Indianapolis student who objected to dissection, said she had been a vegetarian since she was 9. She said that her decision to oppose dissection of frog initially puzzled her parents, a typist and a construc­tion worker, but that they came to respect her views.

Besides opposing cruelty to animals, Miss Dixon said she opposed the killing of animals on environmental grounds, saying that a meat ­based farm policy was inefficient because it takes much more land to grow grain, and contributes to deforestation.

After refusing to participate in dissection, Miss Dixon dropped out of her freshman biology class. With the help of advisers on the anti ­dissection telephone line, she worked out a solution with her school principal. She will be allowed to take an environmental class to fulfill her science requirement.

Mr. Bonner, the biology professor at Indiana University, contends that while dissection is often the best teaching method, there are times when alternatives will work. In fact he does not use dissection in teaching a freshman biology class.

"I don't enjoy it myself," he said. "I'm one of those people who don't care for the sight of blood."