Anatomy students dissect hearts and ethics through class


Dissecting animals happens around five times a year in Honors Anatomy and Physiology classes at Berkeley High School. It allows students to have a physical representation of what they’re learning about and gives them a hands-on activity. “I think it was really interesting … It’s very helpful to see how the muscles are shaped and how they’re layered together,” said Ty Walthall, a BHS senior taking Honors Anatomy and Physiology, in regards to dissection in their classes.

Cats, minks, cow eyes, sheep hearts, pigs, and several other animals, depending on the teacher, are dissected during the year. Several science teachers have a relationship with the butcher shop C&M Meats and get as many of their animal parts as possible from there. 

This means that almost everything that is dissected at BHS is a byproduct from the meat or fur industry. “I feel like we do a good job here (at BHS),” said Johannah Bearg, an Honors Anatomy and Physiology teacher at BHS, “I personally don’t use any animals that were raised for dissection. I only use animals that are killed for another reason, and then we’re giving them sort of a second contribution.”

Depending on how students learn best, dissections are very useful and allow the students to envision the anatomy of an animal. “I definitely see kids have these ‘oh’ moments as they’re (dissecting). Because, you can look at a diagram all day, and there’s just some things that are confusing, (compared) to the real thing,” said Devon Brewer, another Honors Anatomy and Physiology teacher at BHS.

However, some students are against, or uncomfortable with dissections, either for religious or moral reasons. Alternate assignments are usually offered by teachers for students who don’t feel comfortable dissecting an animal. “(Dissecting) makes me very uncomfortable, and it makes my stomach hurt,” said Ja’Mariya Birden, an Honors Anatomy and Physiology student and senior at BHS, “But it just depends on what you’re dissecting at the end of the day. Because, we had to dissect cats, and it was just very disturbing … I wasn’t really able to learn from it because it made me so uncomfortable.”

Others students also found the cat dissection to be a  particularly challenging one. “Our first (dissection) was rough because we had to do a whole cat, and that was kind of creepy because it had a face and its hair and everything,” said Eva Stern, a BHS senior in Honors Anatomy and Physiology.

However, Stern preferred the dissection of a sheep heart, where just a standalone organ was dissected. “I really liked that one because you got to see all the structures, and it’s in 3D, which is really helpful for learning,” said Stern.

Kate Haber, an Honors Anatomy and Physiology teacher at BHS, gives out alternate assessments for each of her dissections, but always encourages her students to question what is happening. “I think that it’s really important to listen to students’ concerns, and voices around dissection, but it’s also important to ask them to challenge themselves,” said Haber. “I think that sometimes we bubblewrap students to their disadvantage. And I never, never force a student to dissect, but I’m going to ask them a lot of questions, and they’re going to have to do a lot of thinking in order to get around it. Maybe the same kind of thinking they would have to do confronting it.” 

 An important part of dissection in Haber’s class is being aware that the animals once were living beings. “I think it’s really important to actually look at something that’s dead and learn from it, and ask where it comes from. And also treat it with respect,” said Haber.