All kinds of animals, including fish, frogs, rats, sharks, dogs, cats, farmed animals, fur animals and in some cases even non-human primates, are harmed as part of a student’s education. This harmful use of animals occurs at pre-university levels for teaching general principles of biology, and at university level, as part of the formation of candidates in many fields, including psychology, biology, human and veterinary medicine, pharmacology, dentistry, and health care.
At times, animals are killed purposely to provide body parts, such as organs, tissues or cells. In other cases, whole animals, dead or alive, are supplied to students. Dissections are among the most common practices. This consists of cutting into the body of a pre-killed animal, generally to teach anatomical structures. Animal experimentation includes a variety of procedures on live animals. Vivisection is one of the most frequent practices. It consists of cutting into live animals, and is often followed by injecting chemicals to monitor the effects on the organisms, or to practice surgery skills. Other procedures, which may or may not result in the death of the animal, are observations on the effects of starvation or differently depleted diets on animal behaviour, infection development, and host resistance.
In 2013 , an estimated 228,759 animals were killed for education and training of Canadian post secondary students (1), however this number is believed to be grossly underestimated because institutions are not required by law to keep track of the number of animals used for education. The number of animals who die during the procurement process is also not counted.
HARMFUL USE OF ANIMALS
Procedures involving animal use in teaching are approved in Canada by university Animal Care Committees (ACCs). To be accepted, a procedure needs to comply with the guidelines of the ACCs, corresponding in most cases to the guidelines established by the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC). Following these guidelines, alternatives should be sought before animal use is agreed upon. However, no strict procedure is required for the instructors to prove that no valid, non-harmful animal use alternatives are available. In addition, procedures involving pain and distress are allowed by these committees as part of students curricula.
Furthermore, most animal use in education can be said to be harmful to the animals, following the definition of harm adopted by the International Network for Humane Education (2). This definition considers not only physical harm, but also any limitations to animal freedoms that may cause fear, stress or discomfort. Elaborating on this definition, harm to animals occurs not only when animals are experimented on and killed, but in most steps leading to their procurement, such as during their capture and transportation, as well as when animals are prevented from engaging in their normal behaviours when housed and bred in captivity.
Blatant examples of harm endured by animals bred to be used by the educational system have been witnessed by an undercover investigator from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). An investigation of a US biological supply company revealed cats packed so tightly in transport cages that their flesh protruded through the wire mesh. The killing of the cats was supposed to happen as they were introduced into a gas chamber. However, several of them were observed to have survived this horrific experience, moving their paws (which were tied down) and clenching their teeth on the sponges stuffed into their mouths as employees prepared them for embalming. In the same manner, many rats were seen kicking furiously even after their skin was pulled back from neck to mid-section (3).
In addition to direct harm to individuals, the use of animals in education can be harmful to animal populations and the environment. Certain animals, like frogs and sharks, are often taken from their natural environment, leading in some cases to species depletion and the disturbance of ecosystems. (4)
IMPACT ON STUDENTS
The negative consequences on the students themselves, as well as the learning environment, should not be dismissed. Students who do not approve of the harmful use of animals in education are often faced with what they see as their only choices: performing the activity of which they disapprove and trying to block their feelings, dissociating themselves from the action (with the potentially severe consequences this may have on their psyche) (5), or, instead, choosing a field in which they won’t be asked to performed such acts. The latter, although less damaging psychologically, results in a dramatic loss for science of motivated, critically-thinking students who have a high degree of respect for life.
Students who do not have any objections to using animals are also subject to the negative consequences of a “hidden curriculum” (6). Indeed, by being educated in an environment where animals are mere learning tools and killing is the norm, students become accustomed to the idea that it is acceptable, and in certain situations even encouraged, to use and kill other sentient beings, solely for human interests. This contributes to the shaping of attitudes that may affect not only the students’ personal life choices, but also their future careers. For example, studies of veterinary students have shown that the harmful use of animals leads to a mechanism of desensitization (7) (8), which is certainly not in the best interest of their future patients. Researchers who have been taught harmful animal use are also most likely to perpetuate the use of animals in research and testing, in opposition to the search for humane alternatives. Any animal regulatory body concerned with a reduction of animal use in research and testing should consequently strongly favour the use of alternatives in education.
- (1). Statistics from the Canadian Council on Animal Care http://www.ccac.ca
- (2). Policy on the Use of Animals and Alternatives in Education. International Network for Humane Education (InterNICHE) http://www.interniche.org/policy.htm
- (3). The PETA guide to animals and the dissection industry http://www.petakids.com/lanimaldisindust.pdf
- (4). The Use of Animals in Higher Education. J. Balcombe, Humane Society Press, pages 32-33.
- (5). The psychological effect on students of using animals in ways that they see as ethically, morally and religiously wrong. T. Capaldo, NEAVS, 2001.
- (6). The Hidden Values: Ethics and the Use of Animals in Education. Thales Trez, Master Degree Thesis, University of Leuven, 2001.
- (7). Vets learn to be hard, 10 March, 2000, BBC news http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/sci/tech/newsid_673000/673033.stm
- (8). Psychological Issues in the Educational Use of Animal Experimentation, V. Pomfrey, BSc (Hons), Dip. Nat. Sci.