Sen McGlinn's blog

                                  Reflections on the Bahai teachings

Vivisection and science

This question came up on Yahoo answers on 29 August 2010. Ella asked:

I’m starting AP biology courses next year, as well as communications classes and statistics. I know basic inorganic chemistry and a lot of organic chemistry. However, my fear is dissection. I am a bit squeamish, but that isn’t as much as a problem as my religious beliefs. I am Baha’i. I have moral and religious beliefs about the sanctity of all life. I am a vegetarian and do not wear anything from animals, no fur or leather. In addition, dissection, I believe, would incur severe karmic consequence for myself and the people around me, as the animal was not killed for survival.

How much dissection is involved in this field for college and other biology/marine courses I might take? I feel that I shouldn’t have to compromise my religion to do something I love. I love the ocean, I love science and I love studying it.

You might consider the letter from Abdu’l-Baha quoted by the Universal House of Justice here:

… The beloved Guardian was asked a similar question to which his secretary replied on his behalf, on 29 November 1955: “As there is no definite and conclusive statement on Vivisection in the Baha’i Teachings, this is a matter which the International House of Justice will have to pass upon in the future.”

The House of Justice does not wish to legislate upon this matter at the present time. It is left to the consciences of the individual friends, who should make their decisions in light of the teachings concerning animals and their treatment.

In this connection the House of Justice instructs us to say that in a Tablet in which He stresses the need for kindness to animals, ‘Abdu’l-Baha states that it would be permissible to perform an operation on a living animal for the purposes of research even if the animal were killed thereby, but that the animal must be well anesthetized and that the utmost care must be exercised that it does not suffer.
(9 March 1978 to the National Spiritual Assembly of Italy)

However a more fundamental issue is whether your mind and heart are in tune. The ocean is part of nature, and nature is raw in tooth and claw. It’s eat or be eaten and (wonderfully) the synergy that makes this not a zero-sum game. You know that – but I think your heart rebels against it.

In another letter from Abdu’l-Baha he writes:

O thou who art voicing the praises of thy Lord! I have read thy letter, wherein thou didst express astonishment at some of the laws of God, such as that concerning the hunting of innocent animals, creatures who are guilty of no wrong.

Be thou not surprised at this. Reflect upon the inner realities of the universe, the secret wisdoms involved, the enigmas, the inter-relationships, the rules that govern all. For every part of the universe is connected with every other part by ties that are very powerful and admit of no imbalance, nor any slackening whatever. In the physical realm of creation, all things are eaters and eaten: the plant drinketh in the mineral, the animal doth crop and swallow down the plant, man doth feed upon the animal, and the mineral devoureth the body of man. Physical bodies are transferred past one barrier after another, from one life to another, and all things are subject to transformation and change, save only the essence of existence itself — since it is constant and immutable, and upon it is founded the life of every species and kind, of every contingent reality throughout the whole of creation.

Whensoever thou dost examine, through a microscope, the water man drinketh, the air he doth breathe, thou wilt see that with every breath of air, man taketh in an abundance of animal life, and with every draught of water, he also swalloweth down a great variety of animals. How could it ever be possible to put a stop to this process? For all creatures are eaters and eaten, and the very fabric of life is reared upon this fact. Were it not so, the ties that interlace all created things within the universe would be unravelled.

And further, whensoever a thing is destroyed, and decayeth, and is cut off from life, it is promoted into a world that is greater than the world it knew before. It leaveth, for example, the life of the mineral and goeth forward into the life of the plant; then it departeth out of the vegetable life and ascendeth into that of the animal, following which it forsaketh the life of the animal and riseth into the realm of human life, and this is out of the grace of thy Lord, the Merciful, the Compassionate.
(Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, 156)

It seems to me that contributing to human knowledge is just as much ‘promotion’ as being eaten.

~~ Sen

As a footnote, this is another example showing that the Guardian’s secretaries were not all-knowing: they represent the state of knowledge at the time, and are usually not authoritative interpretations of the scriptures (although there was nothing to prevent the Guardian dictating his authoritative interpretations to a secretary, I can’t think of an example).

In this case, the secretary thought that there was nothing in the Bahai Writings on the subject of vivisection, yet a tablet from Abdu’l-Baha specifying that the animal being dissected must be anesthetized was found and quoted by the Universal House of Justice.

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