Valid Science in Education

One does not have to harm animals to acquire knowledge and in some cases, laboratory skills, for a future career. Different approaches to teaching and the development of numerous humane educational aids, known as “alternatives”, can replace harmful animal use or complement existing humane education. These alternatives include computer models, videotapes, interactive videos, simulator models, plastic models, mannequins, and ethically-sourced cadavers, and are available for all educational fields involving the use of animals. Neutral or beneficial work with live animals can also be part of a student’s learning experience. (1)(2). A book from the International Network for Humane Education, From Guinea Pig to Computer Mouse, covers several case studies on the use of alternatives in many learning institutions, and lists over 500 alternatives by fields of study (3).

Alternatives are used worldwide by more and more instructors, as well as by students opposing harmful animal use as part of their education. Although their prices vary, many of these are affordable for institutions and cost effective over the long term (4). Their efficiency, evaluated by many studies (5), is reinforced by the growing number of students in all fields graduating without harming animals and with the use of these alternatives.


More and more students worldwide refuse to participate in practices they condemn. In Canada, a couple of news articles recently reported on the objection of students to participating in harmful animal use (6) (7), raising an issue generally not publicized, yet familiar to many people. As in most other countries, only a very small number of learning institutions in Canada have an official policy on conscientious objection to animal use (which allows students to object and be provided with alternatives). Yet, students have the right to say “NO” while being educated in the field of their choice. Civil and students rights are protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982), s. 2, which states that everyone has “freedom of conscience and religion” and “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression”. This means that students do not have to violate their ethical principles and/or religious beliefs in order to receive a good education.

The application of these rights and freedoms, however, depends on the relationship between the government and the university or institution in which the student is registered (paralleling the First Amendment in the US ) (8). For a student to invoke the Charter, the university in which he/she is enrolled must be considered a government actor. “For certain purposes”, the courts are prepared to consider universities as government actors because of their funding arrangements. This engages s.15 of the Charter, which prohibits discrimination based on ‘creed’. A Supreme Court of Canada decision suggests that, for some purposes, universities are government actors, and for others, they are private actors. (9)


To our knowledge, no university in Canada has formal policies allowing conscientious objection to the harmful use of animals. Reluctance over the use of alternatives, because of vested interests or for compliance with a too comfortable status quo, is widely spread. Still, the situation is progressively, albeit slowly, changing. A 2002 survey by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) revealed that, out of the 16 medical universities in Canada , 11 no longer use live animals in their teaching curricula (10). Contacts made recently in different Canadian universities also revealed that the issue of conscientious objection to animal use is taken seriously, and most instructors contacted were willing to accommodate students, on a one-to-one basis. This is not enough, of course.

Several universities and schools worldwide allow students to have an education of their choice without compromising their beliefs and harming animals (11). Recently, a veterinary school in the US was created with a philosophy of respect for all life, and consequently the rejection of harmful animal use not for solely conscientious objectors, but for all enrolled students (12). This is a positive, “opt in” (humane, high quality education), contrasting with the traditional “opt out” of harmful animal use.

With the number of efficient, modern and humane alternatives now available, and clear evidence that harmful animal use can have a negative impact on not only animals but also students and the environment, the only possible move is towards a cruelty-free education. Will Canada be a world-leader in animal defense and high quality education by taking a stand on this issue?


  • (1). Ethical surgery training for veterinary students. D. Smeak. In: From Guinea Pig to Computer Mouse, InterNICHE, p. 117-123.
  • (2). A pedagogically sound, innovative, and humane plan for veterinary medical education. L. Rasmussen, R. Robinson, G. Johnston and S. Johnston. In: From Guinea Pig to Computer Mouse, InterNICHE, p. 125-133.
  • (3). From Guinea Pig To Computer Mouse. International Network for Humane Education.
  • (4). The Use of Animals in Higher Education. J. Balcombe, Humane Society Press, pages 45-46.
  • (5). The Use of Animals in Higher Education. J. Balcombe, Humane Society Press, pages 41-42.
  • (6). A young man finds courage in conviction, by Chris Mason, The Ottawa Citizen, January 26, 2004.
  • (7). Vegan has beef with policy, by Astrid Poei, March.02.2004, The Eyeopener Newpaper, Ryerson university.
  • (8). Vivisection and Dissection in the Classroom: a guide to conscientious objection. G. L. Francione and A. E. Charlton, American Anti-Vivisection Society, 1992.
  • (9). McKinney v. University of Guelph
  • (10). Based on this survey, the universities still using animals are: the University of British Columbia, Memorial university of Newfoundland, the University of Western Ontario; Queen’s university and University Laval didn’t answer the survey.
  • (11). Examples of institutions having conscientious objection policies or dissection policies allowing students to object: Murdoch university ( Australia ), Wollongong University ( Australia ), University of Illinois (US), Sarah Lawrence College (US)
  • (12). College of Veterinary Medicine , Western University of Health Sciences



International Network for Humane Education (InterNICHE):

New England Anti Vivisection Society:

The American Anti Vivisection Society (AAVS):


Alternatives databases:

International Network for Humane Education (InterNICHE):

NORINA database:

CONVINCE database:

EURCA Alternatives database:

Alternatives Loan systems:



Alternative Resource Center, Ethical Science and Education Coalition (ESEC):


    • From Guinea Pig To Computer Mouse, 2nd Edn, N. Jukes & M. Chiuia, 2003. International Network for Humane Education, 520 p. Available in several languages and downloadable from Hard copies can be obtained by contacting the InterNICHE national contact for Canada at:
      A video Alternatives in Education: New Approaches for a New Millenium (EuroNICHE, 1999, 33 minutes) is also available from
    • The Use of Animals in Higher Education. J. Balcombe, 2000. Humane Society Press, 104 pages.
    • Vivisection and Dissection in the Classroom: a guide to conscientious objection. G. L. Francione and A. E. Charlton, American Anti-Vivisection Society (AAVS), 1992. Available from AAVS.
    • Learning without killing: a guide to conscientious objection, A. Knight, 2002.
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