Why I cut up humans, not animals

Don't worry - this isn't a confession of murderous habits, just a post about being vegan and a medical student.

Over the course of my medical degree so far, I've spent a number of weeks dissecting human cadavers. Thanks to several incredible people's decision to donate their bodies, I get to learn anatomy through a human body, rather than just using models, text books, and lectures. I get to see how certain muscles connect and work, trace the path of arteries and veins, and get a real sense of how everything fits together in three dimensions that you just can't get anywhere else as a student.

The first time I took a scalpel to what is, in ungilded terms, a dead body, all I could think about was my own mortality. Some time in the future, my body will fail, I'll get sick, and I'll die. We all know that's what's going to happen, but there's nothing like looking at a cadaver to remind you that your time on earth is short.

The second cadaver I worked on, however, made me think about veganism. (I know -- to a vegan, everything makes you think of veganism, but bear with me!)

While we were getting ready to begin the dissection, one of my friends said something along the lines of 'this must make you feel really bad, being a vegan and all'. Her logic was that meat eaters see a lot flesh and blood through the animal products they eat, and are used to cutting it up. What with me being a herbivore, she reasoned, I don't deal with that normally, so seeing it now must be doubly distressing.

While I'd be lying if I said dissecting a cadaver doesn't have an emotional impact on you, it's not for that reason.

When you look at human muscle, or artery, or brain, or bone, it looks indistinguishable from animal muscle, artery, brain or bone.

Yet dissecting one is completely different from dissecting the other: the person who has donated their body has weighed all the pros and cons of their decision, probably talked to their families about it, discussed it with their friends, and decided to give medical students an amazing opportunity they wouldn't have otherwise had. They knew exactly what they were doing, they had full control over their bodies -- the choice was theirs to make. They weren't hurt by their decision, nor was it forced upon them. Their bodies are treated with respect by those that handle them, and the medical students that worked on it truly appreciated the person whose body was in front of them in the anatomy lab.

When animals are killed for dissection - or food, or sport, or other reasons - that choice is not there, there is unjustifiable pain, unnecessary suffering, and a lack of compassion. The first rule of medicine is 'do no harm'. Human dissection, and veganism, fit that mantra. Animal abuse does not.

You Might Also Like


  1. Wow. This makes total sense, and truthfully, I've never thought about it quite this way. I'm not sure I'd ever be able to dissect a human body, since I've never been in a position to make such a decision, but I like the way you've described your task. Did you explain your thoughts to your fellow medical students? It may give them something to think about.

  2. That is an impressive post - there are so many ethical minefields in medicine but sounds like you will approach them with compassion and ethics. I wish I had your fortitude - I am so squeamish about dead bodies - human or animal - that I just don't feel I am medical student material. However it is good to hear how you have thought through this issue in line with your vegan beliefs - might help me if I am challenged on it by some smart alec.

  3. Great post, and I think your stance is exactly right. Also, I'm extremely squeamish and can't imagine doing what you do, so I'm very impressed!


Popular Posts

Blog Archive