Different Strokes: To dissect or not

Some students want live animals, others prefer the virtual option

Updated - October 18, 2016 12:38 pm IST

Published - January 23, 2012 04:27 pm IST

Students learning dissection of a calf foetus

Students learning dissection of a calf foetus

Animal dissection as an aspect of Zoology curriculum is about 90 years old. However, the new UGC guidelines on phasing out animal dissection have started a debate about whether there is an effective way of learning the ropes without getting an opportunity to dissect real animals.

While some students support the guidelines, calling it a sensible thing to do, others find it strange to study anatomy without dissection.

Some students are also concerned about the ecological cost of dissection. Animals are often embalmed with formaldehyde, a chemical preservative linked to cancer of the throat, lungs, and nasal passages. Formaldehyde can also damage the eyes, cause asthma attacks and bronchitis, and severely irritate the skin.

Here are some reactions:

Harini Ramanan, M.Sc-Medical Biochemistry, KMC Manipal, Manipal University

Practical aspects play a vital role in learning anatomy and cannot be understood through the virtual medium. Knowledge of dissection is very important as most research at the Ph.D. level is carried out on animal models for which the knowledge of dissection in inevitable. So, visual alternatives are not really satisfactory. If learning anatomy and various other aspect of dissection will be taught and practised with alternatives and virtual aid, it will be as effective as learning theoretically to drive a car!

Imrana Sultana, PCMB, SSMRV College

Virtual dissection cannot be considered as an effective method always. Since dissection is the most vital part of learning science, unless the student is exposed to an actual corpse of a human being/animal, he or she cannot broaden ways of exploring and learning more about the specimen.

However, digital dissection is very helpful as a side tool during theory classes as the students are exposed to the digital form of the lectures. Digital dissection can be considered as an advantage parallel to actual dissection but considering it as the only one or an alternative frequently is not going to prove helpful.

Overcoming fears

Actual dissection has been followed for years and it has made students overcome their fears of bloodshed and of sighting a corpse. Digital dissection can only be used to revise or just to make oneself perfect on a particular topic or specimen.

Neha Singh, PCMB, New Horizon PU College

Dissection is meant to understand the functioning of internal organs in animals. If virtual dissection helps us to understand it, then why not? So, it is an effective tool that serves the purpose and there is no loss of life. Also, many students are not comfortable with dissection. While performing such dissections animal are tortured and killed just for the sake of understanding. A single student performs many such dissections till he/she masters it. Moreover, many animals are just thrown away because of a tiny mistake during dissection classes, thereby harming life.

Virtual dissection not only saves animals, but also allows repeatability of such experiments. It is an effective tool where we can learn about the internal organ of the animal being dissected with no loss of life.

Rohini Kamath, Science, XII Standard, CBSE Board

Yes, definitely the virtual medium is better any given day than dissecting animals. Also, many educational organisations in India are already going in for computer-based models and other modern techniques which are easier to understand.

The use of live animals does not offer the repeatability that is vital for mastering a task. Animal models and computer simulations can be used again and again until the task is mastered.

These computerised models are cost-effective and make learning complex anatomies easier. Also, these alternatives last long even after repeated use and will be an asset for the institutions in the long run. In addition, they save a student the trauma of witnessing pain, bloodshed and agony that any animal experiences during dissection.

Neethi Patil, PCMB, SSMRV College

Dissecting animals and usage of virtual aids depends on the study requirements. One can easily learn the basics and fundamentals through virtual aids, whereas animal dissection can be effective for practicals.

However, no alternative can beat the live dissections when it comes to practicals as the best study of anatomy can be done only through proper dissection. Computerised models can be used for classroom teaching and revision.

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