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Biology department head reveals the truth about animal dissections at UNF, offers alternatives

UNF vegan student starts online petition against required animal dissections, accepts compromise

“Well it all started at the beginning of this semester,” post-baccalaureate pre-physician’s assistant student Krystin Greene said. “You see, I’m in Anatomy and Physiology I for one of my pre-PA core requirements, but I’m also vegan.”

Greene learned on the first day of class the dissection portion of the course was required, and this immediately posed a problem, she said.

“I’m ethically and morally against animal dissections, so I knew I was going to have to request a CD-ROM dissection simulation alternative,” Greene said.

After contacting her lecture professor Sara Colosimo, who has a copy of the CD-ROM simulation, Colosimo then talked to faculty in the biology department, including UNF Biology Department Head Courtney Hackney.

Greene then learned that Hackney denied her dissection alternative request.

“I value [Green’s] drive to take a stand, but we can’t go making exceptions when I feel the requested alternative compromises her getting the full breath of the experience. There is much value in feeling the tissues, holding the muscles and moving things around,” Hackney said.

But Greene did not want to do this.

“At this point, I really wanted to work something out before the add/drop period had ended, so I went to Hackney and talked to him on the phone,” Greene said.

He told her that he understood her position and that his daughter lives the vegan lifestyle, but he still felt like she would be cheating herself by not participating in the dissections, she said.

Greene, unsatisfied with her lack of options, sent UNF President John Delaney an e-mail voicing her issue, who then forwarded it to the Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Mark Workman, according to the e-mail.

“Workman responded by saying that he would give the issue some thought, and that he would get back with me shortly,” Greene said.

Workman told Greene that he had corresponded with Hackney, who was sympathetic to her objection but still felt that the only way a student can truly learn anatomy and physiology is to learn not only facts but also the techniques, Greene said.

While Workman said that he would willingly support Greene’s position on ethical grounds, he also found Hackney’s observations about the technical aspects of anatomy and physiology compelling, according to an e-mail.

“UNF is well-known for our rigorous biology department. A lot of our students get into medical school with ease, and graduate schools and med schools take into consideration the undergraduate programs that allow students to learn things on a computer versus the real thing,” Hackney said. “Maybe one day there will be plastic cats that offer the same experience, but I predict whenever those become available, they will be extremely expensive.”

The rise of the petition

Hackney then recommended Greene consider taking the course at Florida State College of Jacksonville. They allow student dissection alternatives, but by that time the add/drop period had ended and FSCJ no longer accepted registration for students, Greene said.

Greene, during the second week of the semester, said she informed Workman she was going to take other avenues in pushing her issue, and trusted that he’d respect her decision, according to an e-mail.

“That’s when I forwarded the link to my online petition to the students in my class. I wasn’t trying to infringe my position on others. I just hoped that if anyone maybe had a similar position on the issue, that they’d take a look at it and could sign it if they agreed,” she said.

The petition title reads, “Help Stop Animal Dissections at UNF!” and Greene talks about how humane slaughterhouses do not exist. She also said that wrongdoings within some biological supply companies occurs and talked about how studies have shown that students who learn from alternative CD-ROMs perform as well as – and often superior to – those who have learned from dissections.

Greene received a couple e-mails from students in her class who disagreed with her position and reiterated Hackney’s point of not being able to truly learn anatomy without dissection, according to e-mail records.

“They basically told me too that I shouldn’t be able to get out of it and questioned why I was enrolled in the class in the first place if I wasn’t willing to do the dissections,” Greene said.

Hackney didn’t read Greene’s petition but when told what it said, gave his opinion on its claims.

“In regards to her claim about the biological supply companies being inhumane, all of the animals we use are euthanized and processed much more ethically than say a decade ago,” Hackney said. “And I don’t know about the validity of the studies she refers to.”

Handling the dissection issue

At that time, she also contacted Student Government, who informed her that they had a couple people working on it, but she never received a follow up e-mail, according to e-mail records.

Hackney e-mailed Greene back Sept. 3 offering a compromise. They paired Greene with a student who performs the dissection and Greene could just observe for no grade penalty, Greene said.

“Although I feel that she will not get what she could be getting out of the experience, this is how she feels and we don’t want to force anyone into doing something they don’t want to do,” Hackney said.

Although Greene found this to be a middle-of-the-road alternative and that the situation remained tough, she said she didn’t really have any other choice but to accept it.

The dissections start Oct. 22 and go for about a month. The classes will dissect a cat up to its muscle, a sheep’s brain and a cow’s eye. In Anatomy II, they finish dissecting the same cats.

Although she made the decision to stick it out in the class, Greene still plans to keep the dissection petition up, which currently has 49 signatures and can be found at petitiononline.com/animal09/petition.html.

“I’m in General Biology III and am a vegan as well, and these dissections are not necessary. We already memorize all of the parts. We use so many diagrams and atlases, and performing the procedures on a CD-ROM doesn’t make you less competent,” UNF sophomore biology major Natalia Bayona said.

Bayona also brought up that many of the species her class will be looking at include endangered species such as frogs and that goes against what she wants to do with her degree, which is to become a biological conversationalist.

“The amounts of animals we use are ridiculous, even if we do work in groups, it’s just morally wrong,” Bayona said.

Hackney said that UNF never uses endangered species for dissection, and added that if they were to, they’d end up in jail.

“Although all amphibians are at risk, the frogs we use are abundant and resilient, and most of them come from catfish ponds,” Hackney said.

Conciliation persists

When negotiating a compromise with Greene, Hackney asked her if she realized an animal must die in the process of making the CD-ROM, Greene said.

At least it’s not 150 cats, Greene said.

“I printed out all of the information required to obtain the CDs, and was willing to take full fiscal responsibility in purchasing these alternatives, but the department won’t even make exceptions for those allergic to formaldehyde,” Greene said.

Hackney said this is false.

“We absolutely will make exceptions for students who are medically allergic. I am sensitive to formaldehyde. A lot of people are, and in those cases we will provide other options,” Hackney said.

Currently there are 15 states in the U.S. with student choice laws that allow students K-12 to opt out of dissections. Schools require provided alternatives.

Greene contacted the National Anti-Vivisection Society hot line about her issue, but they informed her that typically it takes a major movement for anything to get accomplished at the university level, she said.

The organization’s official Web site, navs.org, lists hundreds of colleges and universities that allow student dissection alternatives.

The list includes universities such as Northwestern University, University of Pennsylvania and Duke Medical School.

“Yes, there are Ivy League schools that are changing their dissection standards, but it’s about them saving money,” Hackney said. “It’s not because the faculty genuinely feels like their students can learn the same things on a computer.”

Myths Versus Facts About UNF’s Dissection Policies

Myth: UNF doesn’t offer dissection alternatives to anyone, even students who are allergic to formaldehyde.
Fact: This is not true. UNF will “provide other options” to students with this allergy. Just recently, UNF also decided to allow a student who morally disagreed with dissections to watch someone dissect instead of performing a dissection herself.

Myth: A grade penalty comes with choosing to do these alternatives.
Fact: There is no grade penalty involved with alternative dissections as long as you do the work expected of you in such an alternative.

Myth: Alternatives save animals who would’ve otherwise died for dissection purposes.
Fact: This is not entirely true. To make the CD-ROM alternative, one cat was killed. Live dissection in the classroom requires more than one to die.

Myth: Animals used for dissection are killed cruelly and inhumanely.
Fact: Animals used for dissection are killed, but they are euthanized. This process comes from a Greek word meaning “good death” and is usually completely painless.

Myth: UNF students dissect endangered animals.
Fact: This is absolutely not true. Dissecting endangered animals is illegal.

Source: Courtney Hackney, UNF Biology Department head

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