CUMBERLAND -- Lena M. Sims' love of life is what pushed her toward her dream of being a nurse. It also may prevent her from reaching her goal.
Mrs. Sims, a Romney, W.Va., resident and a student in the pre-nursing program at Allegany Community College in Cumberland, is refusing to dissect a cat as part of her anatomy course in the nursing curriculum -- a decision that may force her to leave school, she said.
School officials told her that she had two choices -- cut or fail, she said. On Friday, school officials said they were reconsidering the matter.
Mrs. Sims objects to using animals for such research on moral grounds.
"I told them the animals should not be treated as disposable lab accessories," she said. "This promotes stealing and the sale of animals for lab experiments. If I do this, I am supporting the industry that profits from it and from cruelty to animals."
Last week, she told her anatomy instructor, Thomas Baker, that she would not be able to dissect a cat, part of the curriculum in the laboratory work in the course. She asked that some alternative research tool, such as computer programs or models, be used to learn the material, she said.
"I'm not refusing to learn the material," she said.
She was told by Mr. Baker and the head of the science department, Dr. Glenn Workman, that no alternative would be offered.
"They explained to me that they would not make an exception for me," she said. "They told me that if I wanted to be a nurse, to dissect the cat and pursue my nursing career. They said it is part of the program and has always been in the program. They told me to put my beliefs behind me and dissect the cat."
The decision left Mrs. Sims shaken.
"I cried when they said they would not make an exception," she said. "They told me that just because it was my morals, that didn't make it right."
Mr. Baker would not comment on Mrs. Sims' dispute over the curriculum.
"Before discussing the matter with reporters, I think it would be premature for me to make any statements until I have a conference with the college attorneys," he said.
But Dr. Workman said on Friday that the school is re-examining the issue and has asked Mrs. Sims to come in today for a meeting.
"We are trying to look at this objectively from all angles and will probably come to some kind of a decision by the first of the week," he said.
He said this was the first time the issue had been pressed at the college.
"It is part of our curriculum and is listed in the college catalog," Dr. Workman said. "If some kind of exception is made, where do
you draw the line?"
He said he does not want to see Mrs. Sims leave the program. "We want to see her become a nurse," he said.
Mrs. Sims, 36, said she is in her third semester of the pre-nursing program at the school. She hopes to take her tests at the end of the semester to get into the school's nursing program. She wants to be a licensed practical nurse, she said.
But now she may be faced with a choice of failing the anatomy course or of withdrawing and trying to go to another school, she said.
At least two other community colleges in the state offer varying degrees of leeway in anatomy studies for students.
At Howard Community College, no policy exists to deal with exceptions to dissections, said school spokesman Randy R. Bengfort.
"The feeling here is that if the issue did arise, our faculty would want to try to provide alternatives," he said.
At Frederick Community College, anatomy class students who object to dissection may observe the procedure and not participate in the actual dissection, said school spokeswoman Susan H. Loveland.
Mrs. Sims worked as a receptionist in a doctor's office while her daughter was growing up. Last year, the time was right, she said, for her to pursue her nursing plans.
"I've always wanted to be a nurse," she said. "I would make a good nurse. I care about life."