Aug 10, 2020

Some anatomy students face a dissection dilemma

Some students go to school to endure long lectures. Others put on some shorts and a tank top and run laps at the gym. A few pull out dead bodies, put on some gloves and — with scissors in hand — start snipping away.

Just another day in the life of students in Anatomy and Physiology 33, one of multiple anatomy classes on campus that give students a real hands-on experience with once-living flesh.

The university’s anatomy and physiology courses dissect cats for the purpose of learning the anatomy of humans, and is mandatory for biology, pre-med and health science majors. But recently, one student stood apart from the class and voiced she was morally and ethically opposed to animal dissection.

Lisa Gallyer is a senior studying health science and gerontology.

“Cats are sometimes acquired illegally and killed inhumanely, and I don’t want to support that,” said Gallyer, a vegetarian.

She said that many reports and videos are accessible online about animal cruelty and how animals are housed and killed for the use of science and experimentation.

Jennifer Debban, professor of physiology and anatomy at Fresno State, disagrees with Gallyer’s stance, confirming that the animals used in her class are humanely euthanized to her knowledge, and are euthunized because of overpopulation. She said the dissection serves a purpose because it is a tool for students to learn.

“The class is human anatomy and physiology; its not a pre-vet course and definitely not a feline anatomy course,” Gallyer said.

Debban said that cat anatomy is similar to that of humans because they have organ tissue, muscle tissue and blood vessels, much like a human.

“I sometimes get students that are squeamish, but less than a dozen don’t want to participate out of the 13 years I have been teaching the class,” Debban said.

She said cats were used for dissection because human cadavers are really expensive to buy and are too big to accommodate on campus.

Gallyer said she would much rather cut into a human cadaver because humans give permission to use their bodies for research. She said cats have no choice in what deplorable conditions they are kept in until it is time for them to be studied.

“I am not a biology major,” Gallyer said. “I am a health science major, which emphasizes the [promotion of healthy living] through education. I don’t feel I need to cut into an animal’s flesh to learn what my major requires. I should have the right to refuse dissection and use alternatives.”

She said there are so many alternatives, such as watching a dissection video, using the laboratory text, showing pictures of a cat dissection, using a plastic model of human muscle and organ tissues and computer simulation.

“It is merely the science and anatomy department’s opinion that alternatives are inferior or inadequate,” Gallyer said. “I was willing to work harder, pay for the computer program, or whatever else I may have needed to do to pass the course without having to dissect an animal.”

Gallyer pointed to some Web sites that offer alternatives to dissection, such as The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine at and The Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights at

Mandy Predmore, 22, a former Fresno State student who is currently enrolled at the School of Veterinary Medicine in Davis, said, “You don’t get the same feel for the anatomy of the animal with computer simulation as you would with dissection. It is necessary to feel the tissue and the organs under the scalpel.”

Predmore said the computer program is beneficial, along with dissection, but should not be used as an exclusive method of learning.

“I wouldn’t want someone operating on my animal if they had only done computer simulation and never worked on animal tissue,” Predmore said.

Gallyer said she was told by her professor, Debban, that dissection was a part of the class, and if she wanted to pass the class, she would have to be a part of a group that dissected a cat.

Gallyer said she felt she was forced to dissect the cat herself because the curriculum didn’t provide any alternatives and no group member was willing to do so.

“Out of my group of three students, I was the only one who dissected the cat,” Gallyer said. “They refused to touch her; they were grossed out.”

Gallyer said dissection is not ethical, teaches insensitivity toward animals, contributes to animal cruelty and supports the mindset that animals are expendable “tools.”

“When it was observed that my group’s cat was pregnant, one student said ‘how sad, they killed a pregnant cat.’” Gallyer said. “I thought that statement solidified the ignorance, lack of compassion and total disregard for the animal’s life. I don’t understand why the entire experience wasn’t sad to her prior to seeing the pregnant cat.”

Gallyer said Debban told the class that the animals are “humanely euthanized,” and by using them for science, their death wasn’t in vain.

According to Gallyer, Debban told her that the fact that the animals are skinned should make Gallyer feel better because it disconnects the lab cats from the “fluffy” cats at home.

Debban said she believes the cats are euthanized by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), then sent to a mortuary-like place, where they are released of all their fluids and embalmed.

She said there are no hazardous chemicals used in embalming the cats, so there is no physical harm to students.

She said the animal’s tissues are used for science rather than incinerated.

Area representatives of SPCA were adament that they were not involved with the research.

“Our shelter has never released any live or deceased animals to be used for science or research, and never will,” said Norm Minson, director of the Central California SPCA.

“We understand the need for research,” said Beth Caffrey, education director for the Central California SPCA. “However, we as a humane society do not believe those animals should come from us. Those that take part in this business can be easily corrupted.”

“No student is forced to cut; they can sit in a group and watch another student dissect,” Debban said.

But Debban still recommended hands-on experience as the best means for learning cat and human anatomy for the exams in her class.

“You can’t see it as well as if it was right in front of you,” Debban said, comparing actual dissection with the dissection video offered.

Tiffany Friedland, 21, a biology student at Fresno State, said she thinks dissection is necessary to fully understand the anatomy of a cat or human.

“I love animals; I adopted my cat from the SPCA,” Friedland said.

Friedland first dissected a cat at Monte Vista high school in Danville, Calif.

“After dissecting the cat, I felt I had a better understanding of my adopted cat’s anatomy as well as my own,” she said.

Friedland thought that if the animals had to die anyway, why not use their bodies to learn from and to benefit science?

“I would only want to dissect animals that were humanely euthanized and weren’t killed specifically for medical research,” she said.

Friedland is taking anatomy courses in hopes of someday becoming a professor and working for a university. She said she wants to conduct research that will help cure Parkinson’s disease. A member of Friedland’s family provides her motivation to find the cure.

“I want to be a professor so I can inspire others to continue research,” Friedland said.

But in spite of the perceived scientific benefits, Gallyer’s opinion on animal dissection remains unchanged.

“I was willing to be tested on my knowledge that I could have received from studying,” Gallyer said. “Learning was the bottom line for the class, not the dissection itself.

“It was simply about showing respect and compassion for those who deserve it, and don’t have a voice of their own.”

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