By editorial board • 

Tough call, but there's reason for school's dissection class

It’s hard — impossible, actually — to please everyone in a universal constituency like that of the American public school system. It has been prone to infighting over sensitive subjects virtually since its founding.

Controversy has most often erupted over morality and philosophy, religion and ethics, human biology and anatomy, abortion and birth control, the theory of evolution and virtually anything touching on race. But politics, history and literature have been by no means immune.

The latest local manifestation arises from the dissection of cats in a lightly enrolled section of Advanced Placement biology at McMinnville High School.

Critics consider it a repugnant practice. They say it inflicts inhumane treatment on a treasured companion animal and desensitizes students to animal welfare, a foundation of human welfare. They say the school could teach the same material through live observation, computer simulation, anatomical modeling, and book and film depiction.

Defenders object. They say there simply is no substitute for hands-on exploration of body structure through dissection, and cats best mimic human anatomy in a compact mammalian form. They say cats are bred specifically for that purpose by national supply houses like Mac High’s — Carolina Biological Supply — subject to U.S. Department of Agriculture oversight under the national Animal Welfare Act.

More than 170 species are subject to dissection, but cats, frogs and fetal pigs, a byproduct of the meatpacking industry, dominate. An estimated 100,000 cats, obtained largely through biological supply houses, are dissected annually in American high schools.

Ten states permit students the legal right to opt out, including Florida, California, New York and Oregon. Five more have granted opt-out rights by state Department of Education resolution, including Maryland and Massachusetts.

The practice has drawn fire nationally from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and locally from the Yamhill County Cat Coalition.

Coalition member Antoinnette Marcel first raised the issue in a complaint considered and rejected by the district’s Curriculum Review Committee. She has since filed an appeal scheduled for airing by the school board at 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 28. Meanwhile, a contingent of allies waited two hours at a recent board meeting for a chance to weigh in.

We appreciate the sensitivity of the issue and the heartfelt emotion it stirs, but dissection at Mac High is limited to a single advanced biology class. The class is typically taken by top students pointed toward careers in the medical field, and they have the right to opt out.

We believe that strikes a reasonable balance. We don’t find further concessions warranted. 

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