The Path – July 1890


In view of the attempt of European physiologists to debauch the people of India by introducing among them the practice of Vivisection — as instanced by the recent experiments of the British Chloroform Commission at Hyderabad, — the time seems opportune for a special appeal to the conscience of the West in regard to this practice. And there is no quarter from which such appeal can so fitly proceed as that which represents the higher nature of man as implied in the term Theosophy. Hence the presence of this appeal in these pages.

As is generally well-known, Vivisection consists in the employment of living animals for the purpose of physiological and biological research. To such extent and in such manner is that research carried on, that Christendom — so-called for its once veneration of a humanity which, for the voluntary sacrifice of its own lower nature to its higher and of itself for others, was recognized as divine — has of late years become from end to end studded with torture-chambers, under the name of physiological laboratories, wherein unceasingly myriads of innocent, healthy, and otherwise happy creatures, of the keenest sensibility, are made to undergo sufferings the most excruciating and protracted which scientific skill can devise. (1)

The plea for this state of things varies with the class to whom it is addressed; but it is in all cases a selfish one. With the general public it is the advancement of medical knowledge for their own benefit. With the physiologist, it is his own professional advancement.

With respect to the former of these pleas, it does not come within the scope of this paper to do more than state that it is in no way sustained by the results obtained: For this we have the positive assurance of the most eminent experts in medical science, — some of them in their day noted experimentalists, — that, so far from that science being promoted by the practice, it has been seriously hindered and injured. And this in three different ways, (1) By its misleading nature, through the untrustworthiness of the conclusions based upon it. (2) By its being made a substitute for sound and legitimate methods of observation. And (3) by its tendency to repel from the study of medicine the finest minds and noblest characters, and to hand it over to the hardest hearts and dullest consciences. In support of one of these allegations it will suffice to state that some of its most ardent practitioners have been known to warn their friends against accepting aid, medical or surgical, from men whose knowledge or skill has been obtained in the laboratory. (2)

And in support of another, that in places where the practice prevails the poor are notoriously in danger of repairing to the hospital only to find it a laboratory and themselves the subjects of agonizing and murderous experimentation performed for ends in which they have no manner of concern. (3) All this is but as would confidently be anticipated by intelligent students of Nature who have learnt to look within the veil, and represents the Nemesis which inevitably attends on the violation of her laws, whether physical or moral. For, as these know absolutely, Nature is no mere mechanism, inconscient and insensible to defiance and outrage. Like her own children, she is a Soul, having a body. For we can have nothing that she has not. And she is very woman, whose real law is sympathy, whatever to shallow and loveless observation it may appear to be. For she reflects to each one who approaches her precisely the image he presents to her. Wherefore to those, and those only, who court her with reverence, humility, patience, and tenderness, does she open her heart and disclose her secrets. But the attempt to ravish these from her by violence — how mean soever the subject of the assault — she vehemently resents, and avenges by smiting with impotence the intellect of the offender, so that he can in no wise discern the significance even of that which with his outer eyes he may behold. From this it comes — as is demonstrated by all the records of the practice — that, like the witness stretched upon the rack, Nature — put to the question by torture — answers with a lie. Through a creature crucified alive to a plank, cut into with knives, torn with saws, burnt with acids or hot irons, pierced through and through with nails, scalded inside or outside with boiling water, wetted with spirits and set on fire, whose eyes and organs and limbs are dissected out bit by bit, whose nerves and sinews are wrung to their utmost tension with hooks, whose whole circulation is deranged and whose frame is writhing throughout with agony — Nature permits no trustworthy revelation to be made; so that the very "facts" obtained by a vivisecting science are not truths but falsehoods. And if instances be demanded in token whether of the futility of the method or of its paralysing influence upon the minds of its followers, we have these two typical ones, (1) Physiologists were, unknown to the general public, vivisecting not only animals but men and women — criminals from the prisons of Egypt and Italy being delivered to them in hundreds for the purpose — for nearly two thousand years, before that most probable and obvious of natural phenomena was discovered, the circulation of the blood. And so far were they even from suspecting the fact, that the discovery, when at length it was made, was received by the profession at large with incredulity and derision. The discovery, moreover, though made by a vivisector, was neither due to vivisection, nor could have been made through vivisection. (2) To this day it is a question — real or pretended — among physiologists, whether animals are capable of feeling pain. (4) It is not, however, on the ground of its uselessness or its mischievousness that this protest against vivisection is based, but on that of its cruelty, injustice, and selfishness, and, therein, of its immorality and wickedness. (5)

For, constituting as it does, the extremest conceivable instance of seeking one's own advantage regardless of the cost to others, it is so hopelessly and desperately wrong as to warrant the assertion that if vivisection is right then nothing is wrong. For there is no principle of morality to which it is not in direct opposition. To approve it, we must hold that the end justifies the means; that might is right, and that the strong and crafty do no wrong when for their own selfish ends they ruthlessly torture the weak and simple; that mankind can be benefited by that which is subversive of humanity; that kingship is tyranny, and the right to rule involves the right to torture; that the way to make earth a heaven is to establish human society upon the ethics of hell, and people the world with fiends in place of beings really human; that there are pursuits to which there are no moral limits; and that man has no duties either towards his own best, or towards those who are unable to enforce their own rights: that the universe, so far from proceeding from one and the same source, or having any unity of substance, impulse, method, or design, proceeds from opposites so extreme that good is to be got by doing evil and divine ends are to be attained by infernal methods; that force is all, love nothing; that sense is all, conscience nothing; that head is all, heart nothing; that the form is all, the character nothing; that the body is all, the soul nothing: that inhumanity is humanity; and that the physical self is the beginning and end of existence, and the care of that self the fulfilling of all rational law.

Such are the principles which, at the bidding of a wholly materialistic science, the society at large of Christendom accepts, the legislatures protect and endow, the literatures and press uphold, the churches by silence consent to or, by implication, sanction; and practically imbued with which its youth come forth from its centres of education to propagate by precept or example on entering the world as men. And so great is the prevailing hardness of heart and dullness of perception, that the perpetrators of the most dreadful atrocities can openly publish their horrible records without risk legal or social, and pose on platforms and in senates as authorities on education and morals, and rebuke people for such scruples as they may still retain, without finding a public sentiment to be shocked at the anomaly. And, to crown all, there are not wanting women so lost to all sense of tenderness and beauty, and with the womanhood in them so dead, as to consort as wives with the torturers, and even with their own hands to exercise their foul art, and to send their daughters to classes in "experimental physiology"! And meanwhile all really human lives are made intolerable by the consciousness that such horrors are being enacted, such principles recognised, and humanity unspeakably degraded, under the sanction of the laws and the protection of the police. So that it is a question of torturing men and women as well as animals. For all really human beings are tortured through the knowledge of what is being done in their midst, and can with full truth declare to the torturers, "Inasmuch as ye have done it to the least of these our brethren, ye have done it unto us."

It is a very real and serious danger with which modern society is confronted, the danger which arises from the demands of certain scientific classes to exercise supremacy over it, and the readiness of the generality to concede it to them. History shows that there is always a disposition on the part of Specialists of some sort to get themselves erected into an oligarchy and invested with a universal dictatorship, in the exercise of which they trample under foot every principle and sentiment that stands in their way. History shows also that it depends upon what people most dread, what class of specialists gets the upperhand. Thus, when the danger is anarchy or invasion, then the specialists in military science — the soldiery — bear sway. When people most fear for their souls, or believe their worldly welfare to be endangered by supernatural causes, then the specialists in religion — the priests — become the rulers, they being credited with a monopoly of the arts of saving souls and propitiating the powers above. And now that peace and security are sufficiently assured to enable us to dispense with a military domination; and people are for the most part persuaded either that there are no such things as souls to be saved and super-natural powers to be propitiated, or that priests possess no special faculty in the matter, and that the body is all in all, their concern is all for their bodily welfare, and they are ready to give a free hand to the specialists of medical science, and to invest the doctors with the authority formerly wielded by soldiers and ecclesiastics. And in this way it has come that the professors of the cure of souls have been superseded by those of the cure of bodies.

Now, of specialists in any department, this is indisputably true. Be they eminent as they may in their own department — and, indeed, by reason of such eminence — they are in the highest degree liable to be correspondingly deficient in respect of departments other than their own; so that the converse of the adage "General knowledge means particular ignorance" holds good of them, and their particular knowledge means general ignorance. This is because their habit of exclusive concentration upon one subject or class of subjects renders them non-percipient in respect of others, and incapacitates them for estimating their relative values. For this reason it is necessary that society at large keep a strict watch on specialists, and particularly on that class which the circumstances of the time bring most into vogue, in order that other interests may not suffer.

To this rule the class of specialists now to the front, that of medical science, is no exception, and the interests to which it is blind are precisely those which, for all who have taken pains to obtain knowledge both general and particular, are the most important of all interests, seeing that upon them it depends whether life be worth living at all, and humanity be something worth belonging to. These are the interests of that part of man's nature which so far transcends the sphere of physiology and medicine as wholly to escape recognition by the exclusive followers of those branches of knowledge, use what instruments they may, — the part moral and spiritual in the human system. Not, be it observed, that these studies by any means necessarily incapacitate the mind for the discernment and appreciation of higher things. To one duly percipient and reflective, to one capable of thought really free, every natural object is suggestive of an informing idea the pursuit of which, if carried far enough, uplifts the mind to the divine source of all Truth; while the very inadequacy of the physical organism to account for the facts of consciousness suggests the necessity of something vastly transcending the organism to complete and interpret the man. That this is notoriously not the case with the physiologist of the period is, then, no fault of the study itself. Rather does it show that medical science has for the most part fallen into the hands of men whose minds are not duly percipient and reflective; of men, that is, who are, in respect of the higher regions of man's nature, rudimentary and undeveloped, and who, accordingly, instead of supplementing and correcting the senses by the mind, subordinate and suppress the mind in favor of the senses, and make these their sole criterion of truth. This is to say that they who claim to represent the medical science of the day, and — as shown by their insistence on vivisection — to dictate to society its code of religion and morals, are, in respect of all matters transcending the merely physical, exactly in the condition of those who deny the diurnal revolution of the earth on the ground that they see the sun and stars go round it every twenty-four hours, and feel it stationary beneath their feet, and who recognize as trustworthy nothing but the bodily senses. Now, it is at the bidding of men precisely such as these that we are called on, by the toleration of vivisection, to renounce the soul, or higher ego, and all those sentiments which, being of the soul, alone make and ennoble Humanity.

But it is said that the doctor is necessarily, by the very nature of his vocation, so humane as to render a priori incredible the items of this indictment against him. Never was there a greater fallacy; or one more ridiculed and scoffed at, and this by the subjects themselves of it. And the marvel is how, in the face of history and its awful records of the doings of those who, being priests and claiming to be ministers of the gentle religion of Jesus, were responsible for the horrors of the Inquisition and multitudinous persecutions, such a plea can find utterance. As well might we credit the soldier with more courage than other men on account of his vocation; the policeman with more civic virtue; the ecclesiastic with profounder piety; the lawyer with a greater love of justice; as the doctor with more humanity than other men on account of his vocation. He is but as others, as he himself knows and freely admits. And being so, he is no less liable to ignore right principles in favor of evil methods where his material interest, or the exaltation of his order, is concerned. And it is precisely through its persistency in doing this that the medical profession of our day has become guilty of the most dire conspiracy ever contrived against the human race, in that it has for its object the destruction of the character of mankind, present and to come. No less tremendous than this is the issue involved in this question. And that people have failed so to discern it is because, under the prevailing materialistic regime, they are so wholly given to idolatry as altogether to ignore the substance for the appearance, and to worship this accordingly, believing that it is the form, and not the character, which makes and is the man. Whereas the human form, to be valid, must, like any other form, be filled up. It must have the man inside it.

As history shows, every age has its sanguinary orthodoxy claiming a vested interest in some barbarous wrong. But, as history also shows, it was not by tamely submitting to the dictation of Specialists that our forefathers procured for us the possibilities of such advance as has been made. Wherefore, as they abolished, one after another, such horrors as bloody sacrifices, human and animal, prisoner-killing, witness-torturing, gladiatorial and other brutal sports, heretic burning and racking, and persecution generally for conscience sake, witch-baiting, press-ganging, and negro slavery, — so let us in our turn abolish the peculiar barbarism of our time. Thus doing, we shall set ourselves and our children free to follow with unstained hearts and hands those knowledges whose lawfulness or unlawfulness, whose power to bless or to curse, depend no less on the method of their acquisition than on that of their application.

We who seek to smite down vivisection are the true descendants and successors of those who smote down the corresponding inquiries of the past, and who live again in us, for the spirit is the same. And they who uphold vivisection are the true descendants and successors of those who upheld the corresponding iniquities of the past, and who live again in them, for the spirit is the same. Then, just as now, abolition was denounced as dangerous to religion, morals, and the best interests of society. Historians tell us that the decline of the taste for human sacrifices — a practice once universal as the world has never regretted the abolition of such things in the past, so — we may be well assured — it will never regret the like abolition now; but rather will it evermore rejoice in its recognition, though tardy, of the self-evident propositions that true science, like true religion, neither needs, nor can be sustained by, torture; and that, come what may, it is better to die men than to live fiends. In the words of The Perfect Way, "In vivisection the human is abandoned for the infernal."

1. According to published returns the number of victims used at Prof. Schiffs laboratory at Florence in ten years exceeded 76,000, of which over 14,000 were dogs, and the minimum annual demand for the same purpose at Geneva is stated at 10,000. There are hundreds of such institutions.

The notion that the suffering is prevented or mitigated to any appreciable extent by means of anesthetics is altogether fallacious. Both the duration and the nature of the vast majority of the experiments are such as to preclude the use of anaesthetics. For their effect would be either to kill the animal or to vitiate the result. Their chief use in the matter has been to lull the public conscience. And in this view anesthetics have been pronounced by a quondam experimenter to be "the greatest curse of vivisectible animals." The inventive genius of the Americans, as applied to this department, has procured for the physiologists of the United States the evil reputation of surpassing all others in the cruelty of their experiments. (return to text)

2. The late celebrated French experimental physiologist, Prof. Claude Bernard, said shortly before his death in regard to the results then obtained, "Our hands are empty." And of M. Pasteur's system — to which the experimentalists cling as their last hope, that bubble not having yet burst for the public, it has been shown by Luteau and others that, while there is abundant evidence to show that it has caused many deaths, there is no evidence to show that it has saved any lives.

Among those who have given the above warning was the late Prof. Majendie, one of the most hardened of French experimentalists. It is a common thing in the Paris medical schools for students under examination to be rebuked for founding their answers on vivisectional experimentation, on account of the eminent untrustworthiness of the method. (return to text)

3. See, among other works, St. Bernard's, by a London Physician, and the key to it. (return to text)

4. Among others Prof. Huxley has tried to show that animals are little more than non sensitive automata. On the other hand, Prof. Mantegazxa of Milan — whose experiments were especially contrived for the production of pain, in order that he might observe its phenomena — divided the pain produced by him into four degrees, which he named respectively "great pain", "intense pain", "cruel pain", and "most atrocious pain". (return to text)

5. It is precisely on the ground of its immorality and impiety that French physiologists, while admitting its uselessness, insist on it as constituting a fitting protest against any attempt of religionists and moralists to interfere with science. See XlXth Century, Feb., 1882, Art. "The Uselessness of Vivisection," by Dr. Anna Kingsford. (return to text)

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