Of Toothpaste and Fetal Pigs

I use a possibly ineffective toothpaste that isn’t tested on animals. After years of almost perfect dentist visits, I’m a couple of months into my cruelty-free switch and a few months away from my next dental visit. I think there’s a higher than 30% chance that I will have a cavity or some other dental problem, but (so far) I don’t care. I can’t stand the thought that my healthy teeth might come at the cost of a bunny being tortured.

It’s not that I think it’s okay for other sentient beings to suffer so I can benefit, but I am 100% resolute in this when it’s something I don’t need or can live without. In freshman biology class in high school, all students were required to dissect a fetal pig. (This was the lead-up to the junior and senior Anatomy & Physiology class, involving the dissection of a cat). I did not want to dissect a fetal pig, or a pregnant pig, or any pig. I didn’t want to know how our school came, twice yearly, into possession of approximately 35 fetal pigs.

I told my teacher at the beginning of the semester that I would not be participating in the dissection because I did not believe in any kind of cruelty to animals. I thought it was cruel and wasteful that for me to dissect anything when I knew I would not be ever needing to do that to an animal or human. Our conversation went roughly like this:

TEACHER: But you need to know how to do this.

ME: I don’t. I am not going to be a doctor or a vet or anything else that would ever require me to know how to do this.

TEACHER: You don’t know that.

ME: I do. I have never wanted to be either of those things.

TEACHER: But what if you do?

ME: If this is the thing that decides that, then I am okay with the decision to foreclose a medical career.

TEACHER: But what if you change your mind?

And so on. The teacher finally accepted that I would not be persuaded by the promise of a career in surgery, but she told me I would be required to take the post-dissection test, the same as if I had participated in the exercise.

I studied the anatomy of a pig in hopes of passing, but when the test was placed in front of me I knew I would never pass. All of the questions required firsthand knowledge of the dissection: “Describe how the heart felt,” “How much did the lungs weigh?”, “What was the color of the spleen?”

I got a D on the exam, which jeopardized the several scholarships I was dependent on to keep me at that high school. I worried for the rest of the semester that I wouldn’t be able to earn a 4.0 on every single biology assignment and test for the remainder of the term, but I did. I ended the class with a B+, below what the scholarship entities preferred but within what they required.

I don’t regret passing on the dissection of that poor fetal pig, and I know I won’t regret my choice of toothpaste if I have a few cavities.

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