Skip to Content


Are virtual dissection simulations an acceptable substitute for real animal specimens?


Virtual dissection should be the only option. More students are choosing not to dissect once-living animals, and in some states, that choice is allowed by law. By providing virtual dissections, students don’t need to make ethical choices, and research shows that learning outcomes are as good or better with humane teaching resources. More than 6 million animals suffer needlessly for high school dissections. There’s nothing humane about prematurely ending a life and then using it “for science.”

I am a special education teacher. As a good educator, I’m required to adapt my lessons to meet the different needs of my students. Science teachers should do the same. Not all students are destined to become scientists, and to force them to participate in a distasteful and morally objectionable exercise is not giving young people the respect for their principles and opinions that they deserve.  

Humans can choose to donate their bodies to science, but  animals have no voice other than ours or our students’. Virtual dissection may not allow for the individual nuances found in real organs, but is a nuance worth a life? One may say that refusing to dissect animals is an emotional choice rather than an intellectual one; regardless of one’s opinion, I don’t believe children should be put in the position to choose intellect over heart for a grade.

Lesa Pennington is a special education teacher at Cactus Shadows High School in Cave Creek, Arizona.


Virtual dissection falls short in the experiential aspects provided by real specimens. Students learn better when they understand and can see the primitive structure of a frog’s lungs, or the fat lining in a cat’s abdomen. They know the texture of these organs and tissues by color and touch, understand what they do, and are able to make inferences and speculate about other species.

It is scientifically important to examine the structure and function of living and once-living organisms. The smell, feel, and texture cannot be duplicated in a virtual dissection.

There are some students who raise ethical questions, but usually their arguments are poorly formed. As a scientist, I cannot fathom a nobler fate for an animal than to be a part of the scientific education process. It is our education that helps us pass on the feelings, thoughts, and beliefs that guide responsible interaction with nature.

Replacing dissection with virtual dissection artificially fragments the life and death “rules” of biology from actual science. Coping with and understanding feelings about life and death is just as important as the study of living things and a necessary requirement of any biological scientist. In the case of our students, it is something that they need to have learned in school before pursuing science at higher levels. Virtual understanding is inadequate.

Christopher Perillo is president of the Kenosha Education Association and has taught several science classes at Indian Trail Academy in Kenosha, Wisconsin.