Students who won't dissect frogs spark rebellion
N.Y. Times News Service
CHICAGO (May 29, 1997)
-- 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
But a rebellion has been growing in the science laboratories of the
nation's schools as a growing number of students refuse to dissect
animals, usually on the grounds 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. 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. Indeed, the
Anti-Vivisection Society sponsors a toll-free number for students facing
academic troubles for their opposition to dissection (1-800-922-3764).
Humane groups say lessons can be taught just as effectively with plastic
models or computer simulations, 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 animal products.
The debate over dissection flared in 1987 when a 15-year-old California
girl, Jennifer Graham, refused to dissect an animal and sued her school
district for not allowing her to complete some
She complained that animals were being needlessly killed simply to be
used for such projects.
A state court ruled that the school could continue to require dissection
in biology classes, but that only frogs that died naturally could be
Miss Graham became something of a celebrity, often called "the frog
girl," who had the courage to stand up to the schools in her defense of
defenseless animals. The public backed 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
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 had forced many schools to
offer an alternative.
About six million animals are killed each year for academic inquiry,
Balcombe said. Frogs are used most commonly, but other animals,
including cats, fetal pigs, rats and snakes, are also used for such
"We have a moral obligation not to mistreat animals," Balcombe said. "We
should give them the benefit of the doubt that they feel pain and
In Illinois, state Rep. Jeffrey M. Schoenberg, a sponsor of a bill in
that state to protect students who object to dissection, 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 Schoenberg, 37. "And it usually takes a lot to make me
Schoenberg noted that options to 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 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 feed
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.
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."
-- By DIRK JOHNSON, New York Times