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Dissection - mandatory for high school and university?

  1. Jan 20, 2014 #1
    Dissection -- mandatory for high school and university?

    Is dissection mandatory for high school and university (biology as a major)? Can one be exempt due to religion and use virtual tech like harvard does?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 20, 2014 #2
    Just curious as I don't know. Which religion disallows disection of already-dead animals? (especially things like frogs, or cows' eyes)
  4. Jan 20, 2014 #3


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    There are religions that prescribe certain rituals after contact with some species of animals whether alive or dead, and/or after contact with any dead animals except those killed for food in a prescribed manner.

    There have been some issues in the UK over taxi drivers discriminating against blind passengers with guide dogs, for example.

    To the OP, I think you should turn the question round: if somebody is a vegetarian, that's fine, but they shouldn't insist that a butcher's shop must employ them, but only on the condition that they never handle meat. AFAIK nobody is required to study biology at a level that involve doing dissections in lab courses.
  5. Jan 20, 2014 #4


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    Interesting -- if a religion firbids dissection, I wonder how their medical doctors are trained...
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2014
  6. Jan 20, 2014 #5


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    most jews are permitted to dissect a human body so long as it is treated with respect

    however cohens (ie descendants of aaron) are forbidden to be in the same room as a dead body, so they would have a problem training to be a doctor … i believe there are ways of getting round this, but i don't know what they are
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 20, 2014
  7. Jan 20, 2014 #6
    In several religions, such as Hinduism (some denominations) or some believers of Islam. As all living beings are the children of God, killing them is like killing our own brothers and sisters, and so incurs a heavy karmic penalty. If we had to kill them for our purpose, or we are using their dead bodies, it is a sin for us.

    They shouldn't insist that a butcher's shop must employ them, but they can at least be a cashier. What I mean is, I have no intention to be a doctor. Other parts of biology, like cell or molecular biology, unlike anatomy and physiology, don't involve much dissection (as much as I know).

    Operation on living organisms for their good is allowed.
  8. Jan 20, 2014 #7


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    The cadavers that medical students dissect are donated with the permission of the deceased folks. At least in the US.

    There is no way a medical doctor can operate with skill on a living person, without extensive experience dissecting and practicing on cadavers.

    What exactly is your point?
  9. Jan 20, 2014 #8


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    To answer the question - I'm sure you can get out of it if you have a religious objection. Some schools will present more red tape than others, but in the end I suspect most would rather come up with an alternative for the student than face a controversial lawsuit.

    That said, I would point out that dissection is a skill that's an integral part of biology. What would you think of a mechanic who has never disassembled a car?
  10. Jan 21, 2014 #9
    As Berkeman said, the human bodies are voluntarily donated to science. A lot of stuff comes from slaughterhouses (think cows eyes), but true, some things like frogs are rounded up and (let's say) "put down" for use in schools. You don't kill them though...

    Also, not to be rude, but do you actually subscribe to one of these religions?

    How does the Karma thing work (for you, if you believe in it) for say, a doctor who must learn and practice his skill on cadavers and animals before being able to act as a practicing doctor who helps people (or animals if he becomes a Vet) day in and day out?

    Yea, but you can't learn to operate on living things without first practicing on the dead ones. I imagine it would be more of a karmic penalty to operate ignorantly on a live subject that had a chance at life and kill it by malpractice, than to practice first on already-dead or dying animals first in order to hone your skill so that you could save lives. Maybe not.

    As for you, if you don't want to be a medical practitioner, and you really do subscribe to a religion which denounces the handling of dead creatures, then discuss it with your teacher/professor.
  11. Jan 21, 2014 #10
    For a Doctor, dissection is extremely important. But my ambition is not to be a doctor. What I am asking is whether dissection is that important to a biologist. I would think simulation and observing images would be enough for just an anatomy and physiology class?

    I agree. If I wanted to be a doctor, I would have to compromise my beliefs or change ambitions. But my goal is to become a biology researcher, where I don't think dissection is that important. Also, I was born as a part of one of those religions, but nonetheless I believe that all valid religions lead to the same facet of God. As for the concept of Karma, I believe that for our sins we are punished in this life along with future ones.

    Also, dissection in several countries is banned in schools.
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2014
  12. Jan 21, 2014 #11


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    The animal is already dead, you cutting it open or not will have no bearing on that. What if you ended up with some new species as a bio researcher and were tasked with figuring out its physiology, are you just going to say no?

    Look for another major.
  13. Jan 21, 2014 #12
    What if I were to specialize in some area apart from zoology?
  14. Jan 21, 2014 #13
    Given your user name your views are a bit ironic.
  15. Jan 21, 2014 #14
    There is tons of biology that does not include animals. You can work in plants, fungi, or microbes. I also want to be a biologist and plan to work on those organisms. Try to pick a biology major that focuses on micro-molecular or plants or something. You won't have to do dissections then unless it's a general animal bio class. In that case there may be a dissection and you can just ask to not do it I think they'll have an alternative. Though on another note what's the big deal? It's science, dissection is often required. If the problem is respect it's misled I think. You can still respect an animals when you're dissecting it to study its anatomy.
  16. Jan 21, 2014 #15


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    Something else I might recommend for anyone who is considering biology as a major and particularly one who is struggling to balance religious concerns is to read some of Richard Dawkins' books.

    "The Selfish Gene" - for example - has a relatively recent update. After having read this a couple of years ago, I can't help but wonder if it would have influenced me to go into biology rather than physics had I read it earlier when I was a student making some life choices. Reading this might also help you to realise why dissection is so important, even if ultimately you specialize in a different field of biology.

    Dawkins is now perhaps more popular for his "God Delusion" book. Whether you ultimately agree with him or not, I also highly recommend that.
  17. Jan 22, 2014 #16


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    Well, the OP stated that in certain denominations of Hinduism, the mere use of the dead bodies of animals is considered a sin. Note the OP's statement below:

    "If we had to kill them for our purpose, or we are using their dead bodies, it is a sin for us."

    While I'm not an expert on Hinduism, I believe the belief expressed in the sentiment above comes from the belief in reincarnation (that each individual has the potential to be reborn into any life, include animal life) and the existence of an immortal soul separate from the body (which could be temporarily trapped inside the dead body, be they animal or human -- hence the common practice of cremation). Ritual purity also comes into practice as well.

    This makes me wonder if students in India practice dissection in biology classes, and how medical students there (or medical students from India or those of Indian descent studying overseas) learn about anatomy.
  18. Jan 22, 2014 #17
    If you're interested in molecular biology, I think you could get away with never laying hands on an animal carcass as a Chemistry bachelor that works in biochem.

    But a straight biology bachelors without plenty of animal and insect dissection seems unlikely at any university.
  19. Jan 22, 2014 #18


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    I've been a vegetarian my whole life, and I'm a doctor. I've never dissected a non-human animal.

    I simply refused to have any animals killed so that I could dissect them when I did Biology in school (I forewarned the teacher beforehand so she wouldn't kill an animal for my sake). I believe the intentional killing of animals to be used for this purpose to be wasteful and somewhat gratuitous. So I objected and abstained, and there was nothing they could do about it. Luckily, by this time, the practical components of the standardised major exams in Biology did not include an animal dissection component - probably because the examiners acknowledged the influence of the "animal rights" lobby and knew better than to set a question requiring dissection.

    My experience might have been different had I taken a specific Zoology course, for instance. I can't see how dissection can be avoided in that course. But in my experience, "general" Biology courses at the school level don't demand that you do animal dissection quite as vehemently.

    When it came to med school, it was a different story. In contrast to the dissection of animals, I had absolutely no problems or squeamishness when dissecting human cadavers - who were obviously *not* killed simply for the purpose of education. I also had no issues performing autopsies on fresh human remains later on. Of course, I had no problems doing surgery either.

    If you want to be a doctor, you absolutely must be intimately familiar with human anatomy. Most medical courses still include cadaveric dissection, and you cannot avoid this and still hope to pass.

    As others have mentioned, biology courses taken at the undergrad level onward will probably involve some form of animal experimentation - which may not even be limited to simple dissection of a dead animal. If you anticipate having an issue with this, investigate the situation thoroughly before taking the plunge. At the end of the day, you have to be comfortable with your choices.
  20. Jan 22, 2014 #19


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    With all due respect...

    - Doc, it hurts when I do that.
    - Don't.

    I feel like we are getting on the wrong side of the common reason.
  21. Jan 22, 2014 #20


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    Sometimes I don't understand Polish humor.... :smile:

    I found the Doc's post to be very good, and very on-topic for the OP's question.
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