Students are becoming desensitized to animal suffering through dissection in science classes, charges animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which is urging schools to stop the practice.

PETA sent a letter to principals in Charlotte County, Fla., stating dissection “teaches students that animals are simply convenient tools to be thrown away like pencils when they are no longer of any use,” the Port Charlotte, Fla., Sun-Herald reported.

“Dissection research shows that students who are desensitized to animal suffering and abuse have a good chance of becoming desensitized to human suffering,” the letter said.

PETA wants animal dissections to be replaced with activities such as virtual dissections on computers. School officials, however, say that is not likely.

Dissection, if done correctly, is a good way for students to learn, especially if they are pursuing a health-related career, said Jackie Speake, Charlotte County’s curriculum and instruction specialist for science.

“To me it’s an invaluable tool,” she told the Sun-Herald. “I know our teachers use it in a very productive way.”

Classes that use the computer programs still use dissection, Speake said, adding it’s up to the teachers to decide.

PETA’s letter was sent the same day the group urged the Florida State Attorney’s Office to “vigorously prosecute” a Charlotte County 13-year-old accused of killing an 8-week-old kitten, the paper said.

On its website, PETA encourages students to “take a stand” against dissection, even to the point of pressing a legal case based on “religious beliefs.”

PETA says:

Meet with the instructor right away and tell him or her that you cannot participate in the dissection because of your “sincerely held religious and moral beliefs about the sanctity of all life,” and ask for a non-animal alternative. These words provide the basis for a possible legal case. (You do not have to support any formal religion; the courts have interpreted a belief that animals should not be killed for classroom dissection to be a religious belief, which schools cannot violate.)

The group says “more and more students –from elementary school to veterinary and medical school – are taking a stand against dissection before it happens in their classes.”

The practice, says the group, is “disgusting, it’s wrong, and it’s time for it to end. And now you are ready to fight dissection!”

PETA is known for its headline-grabbing campaigns on behalf of animals. In April, the animal-rights group, which claims “750,000 members and supports” offered the town of Hamburg, N.Y., $15,000 in veggie burgers if it officially changed its name to “Veggieburg.”

A PETA campaign called “Holocaust on Your Plate” compared chickens slaughtered at factory farms to the Jews annihilated in Nazi death camps.

“Just as the Nazis tried to ‘dehumanize’ Jews by forcing them to live in filthy, crowded conditions,” said a PETA press release relaunching the campaign in February, “animals on today’s factory farms are stripped of all that is enjoyable and natural to them and treated as nothing more than meat-, egg-, and milk-making ‘machines.'”

PETA also condemned the U.S. military’s use of dolphins and sea lions in the Iraq war to help clear underwater mines.

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