Dissection-Problem and Solution


Many students at Virginia Tech, either because of an academic interest in biology or because of a wish to pursue a major that requires the student to take either Principles or General Biology and the associated lab, and

according to a syllabus for General Biology Lab: "During the spring semester of General Biology, dissection of a fetal pig is a mandatory exercise during a major portion of the semester. If you cannot do the dissection for any reason, you must select another elective to fulfill the Area 4 requirement as both semesters are required to obtain credit for the Area 4 requirement," and

according to a syllabus for Principles of Biology Lab: "You are REQUIRED to dissect a fetal pig this semester. There is no alternative for those who do not wish to complete this exercise," and

Dr. Joe Cowles, Head of the Biology Department, told a representative of NRV-CARE that students with objections to the dissection will be dealt with on a case-to-case basis, and that it would be possible for a student with long-standing vegetarian or vegan beliefs to be exempted from the dissection, and allowed an alternative, and

there is a contradiction between what is stated in the syllabuses and what is stated by Dr. Cowles, and

this contradiction is known by only an extremely small numbers of students, faculty, and staff, and is certainly not known by the student population at large, and in particular prospective biology lecture and lab students, and

this lack of knowledge could dissuade and prevent students with moral, ethical, and religious objections from taking a biology lecture and lab, thereby compromising their pursuit of a diverse and enriching education, and limiting their choice of majors, and

numerous alternatives to dissection exist, including models, videos, slide shows, overheads, books, pictures, and computer programs and simulations.


1. The Biology Department of Virginia Tech should change its policy to allow students with sincere ethical, moral, or religious objections to dissection to perform an alternative that does not compromise their beliefs.

2. The Biology Department of Virginia Tech should implement this change in time for the 1999-2000 school year, and put the new policy in writing on all of the Biology Lab syllabuses, as well as announcing the policy on the first day of lab classes.