Dying for education

Human and cat holding paws...um, hands.Did you know that Australia is the 4th highest user of animals in research in the world? (1)

Neither did I, until I found myself watching a movie called Maximum tolerated dose at the Astor last night.

It brought back memories of my year 12 rat dissection class, when I was the only student who was unable to slice into the unfortunate animal who had been sacrificed for our high school education.

Now I realise that I’m not the only person who doesn’t approve of making animals suffer so that we can educate or fascinate or research.

Use of animals in schools

I’m not necessarily arguing that there should be no animal testing – we all know the argument that it’s either animal testing or our child/parent/loved one will die of a hideous illness, but that’s just a ridiculous exaggeration when most animal testing doesn’t involve finding a cure for anything (2).

My main issue at the moment is the pointless suffering of animals used in illustrative experiments, by students who aren’t that interested, or could learn the same thing from a book, video or computer program.

Students who can’t/won’t dissect animals are probably unlikely (like me) to continue studies in biology, which means that there are fewer people willing to advocate for the animals and find alternatives to the practice (2). I continued on to nursing instead, and I know of at least one other person who studied botany to avoid animal dissection.

What can we do about it?

So what can we do to encourage students who are against sacrificing animals? How can we help them speak up for themselves and the animals?

Humane Research Australia have some great ideas. They offer support, including:

We all need to offer support to students and educators who are willing to find alternatives to sacrificing animals for education. After all, it’s a difficult step to challenge educators who have always just “done it that way”, and some might find it so intimidating that they give up their chosen field.

Educators might feel hesitant to embrace the change, but if they can be shown that animal dissection is unnecessary, and that there are excellent, and more humane, alternatives, they might just give it a go. Or perhaps they’ve always been uncomfortable with it, and will be relieved to know that there are kinder ways to teach anatomy!

Unless we can stop these cruel practices, there is probably no way to encourage all those students who truly care for, and empathise with, animals to continue with education and research in biological science – and that would be a huge loss for all of us, especially the animals.


  1. Humane Research Australia, Counting on human cruelty, [Media release], 15 December 2011.
  2. Statistics: Animal use in research and teaching, Australia, Humane Research Australia, 2010
  3. Veterinarian, Andrew Knight, is one exception.

One thought on “Dying for education

  1. Pingback: The Lentil Institution

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