Classes offer alternatives to dissection

Through virtual dissection, students can learn without having to cut.

Nikki Wee

When philosophy senior Donny Mansfield was in middle school, he had to dissect a frog for class. It wasn’t an assignment he remembers fondly.

“It was just a turn off to kill something to learn,” he said. “It seemed somewhat unnecessary.”

Nowadays, some University students who would rather not dissect animals because of moral reasons or because they feel queasy around dead animals have other options.

Select University courses are offering students an alternative to dissection through computer programs.

Through virtual dissection, students can learn where various body parts are without having to physically cut through an animal.

Full-scale, lifelike models that can be taken apart and pieced back together and videos that students can watch are some of the alternatives students have.

Anthropology 1001 classes offer students the option of using an online dissection program if they do not want to dissect a sheep’s brain in lab.

But few students opt to do that, said Anthropology 1001 teaching assistant and graduate student Claire Kirchhoff.

The program still proves useful, as Kirchhoff suggests it for students to use as a study guide.

Gil Schwartz, campaign coordinator for the student group Compassionate Action for Animals, said with all the alternatives to dissecting that are available through technology, there is no use for dissecting animals anymore.

“Times are changing,” he said, “and people are becoming more aware of the alternatives that are available.”

Switching to virtual dissection, or at least offering it to students, would make courses more enjoyable for students, he said.

“A lot of students get turned off from biology because they don’t like the idea of dissecting an animal,” Schwartz said. “They have a natural empathy toward animals, and students have various ethical and religious reasons.”

First-year student Dunstan Pinlac said he likes the idea of virtual dissections, but actual animal dissections are helpful if students are going into a field like medicine. Animals should be from a facility that treats the animals well, and the animals should have died from natural causes, he said.

“I think students should be exposed to the actual blood and guts to some level,” he said.

Although alternatives exist, students in the College of Veterinary Medicine are still using real animals to practice operating, said Leslie Clapper-Rentz, a veterinarian in the Duluth area and a graduate of the University’s Veterinary School.

As a veterinary student, Clapper said, she was a member of the Animal Care and Use committee and worked to bring alternatives to dissecting animals to the veterinary school.

First-year nursing student Laura Quackenboss said she would learn more by physically dissecting an animal than watching it on a computer.

“It depends on what kind of learner you are,” she said. “I, personally, am a hands-on learner.”

Offering the option of a virtual dissection program is fine, she said, but completely switching to it would hinder some students’ learning.

“If (dissection) is what your profession deals with, you should be as prepared as possible,” Quakenboss said.