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Moral Aspects of Vivisection




            APOLOGISTS of the practice appear to think that the desire of knowledge is in itself sufficient to vindicate

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all the cruelties and injustices imaginable. They do not seem to recognize the fact that every branch of intellectual research has its moral limits, and that the quest of pleasure, of wealth, of power, or of knowledge must never, in a civilized state, be permitted to outrage justice or the law of humanity.


            In the ancient religious mysteries of all the nations of the globe, it is said that the fall of man ensues when he sacrifices moral obedience to the intellectual desire to know. Ah, it is primal and profound truth, and for this reason it finds its place in the initial chapters of the occult Book. There are certain means of acquiring knowledge of which man can not make use without forfeiting his place in the Divine Order.


            We know well that there exist many practices which are extremely profitable in their results, but which are not legitimate, and which civilization does not tolerate.


            In former times human lives were sacrificed to the interests of the fine arts. It is related that a certain painter of celebrity, wishing to seize the effects of violent death, caused a negro slave to be decapitated in his studio; and that another artist, famous for the talent he displayed in the interests of the Church, crucified an unfortunate youth in order to secure a faithful model for an altar-piece portraying the expiring Christ.


            Such acts as these are not in the category of legitimate practices, whatever may be the artistic or other value of their results; and the same may be said of many other pursuits constituting so many sciences invented by man to enrich, to amuse, or to aggrandize himself, but which are, by the consensus of modern opinion, discountenanced and outlawed.


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            It is necessary that men should understand the mere plea of “science” to be insufficient as a justification of human action. There are sciences of a legitimate and civilized nature, tending toward light, wisdom and righteousness, and there are others which are neither legitimate nor civilized, and whose results can only end in the obliteration of sentiment, the negation of humanity, and the destruction of true science and true civilization. The progress made by vivisection is an advance upon the downward path.


            And here we are brought face to face with the fact that the vivisecting school is pre-eminently the materialistic and atheistic school; while the school of spiritualistic thought is, by the very nature of its philosophy, opposed to vivisection. (1)


            The materialist has no fundamental notion of Justice. For him everything is vague, relative, inexplicable. He is acquainted only with physical atoms, chemical elements, protoplasm and the theory of the evolution of forms without aim and without order. In his view there is only a blind force acting in the midst of darkness. Consequently, morality is not for him a determined and positive quality, having its source in the divine and inviolable Mind which directs and dominates all material manifestation; it is but a matter of human habit and convention, differing according to the particular time, place and race concerned. The man who adopts this view of morality of course accepts the civil law as the soul arbiter of action, and regards conduct as reprehensible,

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or the reverse, according to the light in which it is popularly viewed by his own nation and era. The sentiments, such as honor, justice, courage, pity, love, loyalty, are for him but idiosyncrasies, varying according to such and such a temperament and depending for their manifestation and development on physical and accidental causes. Naturally, then, he laughs at appeals to sentiment, and boasts of being inaccessible to the “hysterical attacks” of “sensitive and weak-minded fanatics.” When he says this, and other things, he simply means that the words “pity” and “justice” have no sense for him. There is but one only thing in the world which appears to him worthy of desire and attainment, and that is knowledge – knowledge always, and before all things, without any restriction or limitation of the means employed in its attainment.


            The materialist does not understand that the Source and Substance of every series of phenomena, material and physical, the origin of which he seeks so eagerly to interpret, is equally the necessary Cause of the evolution which has produced humanity, whose distinctive appanage is the moral nature. To think otherwise would be to create illogical and absurd confusion between science and morality, by opposing intellect and intellectual interests to justice and the interests of the psychic being.


            Thus is brought about the inevitable negation of philosophic unity.


            But it is no uncommon thing to hear partisans of vivisection meet the charge of injustice and immorality made against the practice by the reply that it is a

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work of the highest intrinsic merit, because it has for its object the welfare of humanity.


            Let us stop and consider what is meant by “the welfare of humanity.” What is the signification of the word “humanity,” so often used, so little understood? For the materialistic and vivisecting school we know very well that humanity imports nothing else than the special physical form of an animal belonging to the family of apes, a creature having such and such conformation of cerebral convolutions, skeleton, and organs. It is the body, the physical form, which constitutes humanity, and that is all. But for the spiritualistic school of thought, humanity means the manifestation of certain qualities and principles which find no expression among irresponsible beings – a condition raised above animality in virtue of a special moral capacity. Consequently, even were it true (which it is not) that physical human life could be saved, and bodily advantages obtained by means of cruel and tyrannical practices, such practices would still be, from the human point of view, completely unjustifiable. The human race can not be saved or enriched by acts which destroy and rob humanity. The physical life and health of individuals would be too dearly preserved or bought by the sacrifice of the high qualities which alone, constitute man’s superiority over all other creatures. The champions of vivisection demand the abasement of the moral standard of our race to the level of the primitive instinct of purely animal existence – the preservation of the body at any cost. Such a surrender would involve the destruction of that which is infinitely more precious than our physical life, of

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that which gives to this life all its worth and all its glory, – the dignity of human sentiment, and the privilege of responsibility.


            What would be said of any person who, being sick or in pain, should cause a number of highly sensitive animals to be tortured for hours or days in his presence, on the remote chance of thereby discovering some means of alleviation for his own malady? Who among us, hearing of such an act as this, but would say that such a man was not worth the saving? And why should the motives of a whole people which act thus in accepting the practices of vivisection as the means of healing its physical ailments be held worthier our respect than those of the individual?


            There can be but one reply. The human race, once beggared of all the attributes which alone enrich and elevate it, has no claim to royalty over the animals, and its salvation can in no wise profit the world.


            For the unjust king is no longer a king, but a tyrant.


            Vivisection has upon its hands the blood of violence and of abuse of force. No man ought to seek the relief of his suffering or the advance of his power at the price of the agonies of his lower brethren, even if such relief or advance should be really proved possible by these means. But it would seem that some physiologists of the modern school are only anxious to prove our common origin with the animals, and consequently the ties of brotherhood which link them to us, in order the more tranquilly to claim the right to torture and misuse them.


            To vindicate the practices of vivisection by to the “law of Nature,” to the habits of certain

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beasts who live by carnage, is to seek to regulate the conduct of the being highest in the series of evolution by the manners of those beings which are lowest in the scale, and to degrade the code of human morality to the plane of that of the wolf, the tiger, or any other irresponsible and noxious creature.


            What is the good of being a man – of being a “king” – if this high rank, this glorious title, imply no superiority to gross natures and to the common lot? What is the meaning of all the mystery of development and of the transmutation of forms which, according to the teaching of science, have occupied so many thousand ages of painful evolution, and by which alone we men have gained our majesty of moral force, and responsibility, if at the bidding of the vivisector we are to abandon our royal privilege, and sink again into the slime beside the last and most obscure of our vassals?


            Ay, and lower even than they. For the “struggle for existence” among irresponsible beings, about which the vivisectors talk so much, rarely implies torture, but only death. The claim of the vivisector is for the right to inflict torture, in which but very few animals, and these the most ferocious and loathsome, appear to take pleasure. If, then, it be true that man has the right to kill certain animals, as he has that to kill certain men, this right does not involve the infliction of prolonged and horrible suffering. At the present day, in civilized countries, condemned criminals are given over to death, but never to the flames, never to the rack or the oubliette. We have no right to inflict upon innocent animals torments to which pity forbids us to subject guilty men.


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            The force which ought to dominate the world is not physical force, nor even purely intellectual force; but it is, above and beyond all other, moral and philosophical force, which alone differentiates man from the beast and distinguishes the civilized being from the barbarian.


            In fact, the distinctive glory of humanity is based on the sentiments – those divine qualities which have ever inspired all the noble and worthy actions of our race, and which are everywhere recognized as the most precious heritage of mankind.


            It is probably because the beliefs of materialism stifle the sentiments in its devotees that they fail to perceive how inapposite are many of the comparisons drawn by them between the practices they defend and others recognized as useful and necessary to the State. A favorite argument is that which likens the craft of the vivisector to the profession of the soldier. Yet what is easier than to see that sentiment here enacts an enormously important part, and that there is all the difference in the world between the courage which gives itself of its own accord to danger and to death, and the cowardice which, at its ease at home, maltreats and martyrizes dumb and inoffensive creatures.


            Where is the analogy between the vivisector’s laboratory, with its gagged, bound, and trembling victims, carved to death in cold blood, and the field of battle, where every man in each contending army fights for home and country under the inspiration of enthusiasm, ambition or the desire for renown?


            Neither is there any resemblance between the practices of vivisection and the great enterprises of civilization,

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such as engineering, exploration in unknown seas, and similar undertakings of a perilous nature, by appeal to which it has been sought to justify the scientific torture of animals; for these last do not voluntarily devote themselves to the knife. Men who take part in difficult works of construction, adventurers who traverse the arctic wastes or engage in other hazardous enterprises, are volunteers who  follow the interest of their own satisfaction or personal profit at their own risk.


            There is a complete contrast between the free sacrifice of oneself for the good of others and the enforced sacrifice of others for the good of oneself. The first is divine; the second is infernal. And vivisection represents a sacrifice of the latter kind.


            Moreover, as already has been said, death is not torture. Let us remember that the right of vivisection differs from every other right assumed by men over animals by its peculiar nature, and that its defenders, if not wholly illogical or ignorant, vindicate the propriety of inflicting, not violent deaths, nor average pains merely, but horrible and prolonged agonies, such as that of the curarized dog cut to pieces by inches, and lingering, hour after hour, in the silence and darkness of the night – dying in torment in the laboratory of Paul Bert, the moralist!


            It is vain to appeal to the vivisectors themselves against the cruelties daily perpetrated in their chambers of horror. Formerly, when the priests of the mediaeval church burnt and tortured men for the salvation of souls, under the auspices of the Holy Office, it was not to the eminent deans and prelates of the sacred hierarchy

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that the world addressed itself in order to obtain the abolition of the Inquisition and of its infamous practices. The priests of the religion of the middle ages, like the priests of science to-day, found fine phrases with which to defend themselves as a body of conscientious and disinterested men. Nevertheless, the question between the Church and the world was decided by the laity against the members of the ecclesiastical corporation, and there has never yet been reason to regret the loss of stake and rack and dungeon.


            A science based upon torture can no more be true science than a religion based upon torture can be true religion. It is a new Reformation that we want – but this time in the domain of science!


            For the rest, the instruments used in our laboratories of vivisection are much the same as in mediaeval times. The modern arsenal is fully as complete as was that of the days of Torquemada, or Isabella of Spain – now the dumb and innocent dog replaces the Jew or the heretic, and creatures which man judges his inferiors are bound to the wheel and tortured, with the hope of extorting from them the secret of life, in blind ignorance of the fact that Nature, outraged and agonized, replies like the human victim on the rack, more often by a lie than by the truth.


            Attempts have again and again been made to dissuade anti-vivisectionists from the crusade they have undertaken, by inviting their attention and that of the public generally, to other abuses more or less grave, with the inquiry, “Why do not you kind-hearted people occupy yourselves with reforming the cruel practices of drovers, cab-drivers, sportsmen, slaughter-men,

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and their like? Why do you not try to solace the misery that everywhere reigns outside the vivisector’s laboratory, before you think of attacking methods of men of science?”


            To all this we reply that we do most strenuously occupy ourselves with these matters, but that every such effort is paralyzed by the fact that not only is vivisection by its very nature the most cruel of all cruelties, and therefore the head and front of offending, but that it is, alone of all cruelties, protected by State legislation, although other and minor barbarisms are officially condemned. So long as the principle of cruelty is thus encouraged and kept alive by law, in the highest walks of science, all attempts to extirpate lesser cruelties elsewhere must prove unavailing.


            How, for instance, can we teach our children duties of humanity toward dumb animals, when, in the course of their studies at school and college, they learn what horrors are perpetrated in the work-rooms of science by the masters and professors they are expected to revere and to imitate? Or how can we profitably interfere to check the barbarities of the streets, when it is in the power of the brutal car man or drover to retort that, no matter how he may maltreat his beast, he can not approach the cruelties of the physiological laboratory which have the full sanction of the law? How can we urge him to cease working some old and worn-out horse, broken down by fatigue in the service of man, when the result of our charitable interference may possibly be, not the well-earned rest of a life-long toil, nor even quick death under the blow of the knacker’s axe, but a long and horrible agony in some

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infernal school of vivisection for the benefit of “science”? Alas, we can but stand by silent, praying only in our hearts that the poor, ill-used creature may rather be worked till he drops dead in his harness, than be delivered over to the tormentors to end his innocent life of faithful service in the pains of hell. Everything, rather than the scalpel, the saw and the hot iron of the vivisector!


            We demand justice! Justice not only for innocent and defenseless animals, but for men themselves.


            The present law of this country is a law manifestly unjust and cowardly. It attacks the dwarfs and respects the giants of cruelty. The poor man who, in the interests of his livelihood, accidentally over-drives his horse or his donkey, is punished by the very Legislature which protects the learned professor who flays and burns alive scores of living creatures systematically.


            The law ought to be administered equally to all men, whether rich or poor, professors or laics, ignorant or learned. Either it ought to be admitted that there is no harm in ill treating animals – and in such case a law which protects them is ridiculous – or the man who cuts up a dog alive in a laboratory merits punishment as much as the man who flogs a horse in the street, and in such case the law ought not to favor the social rank or pretext of the first malefactor at the expense of the last. If vivisection is to be permitted, encouraged and endowed by the State, then societies for the protection of animals from cruelty have no locus standi, and ought to be abolished as anomalies at once absurd and illogical.


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            A good Christian once said to me, “I should never be happy in the joys of Heaven if I knew that other souls were condemned to eternal torment. Such a thought as that would render all my own felicity bitter to me.” Well, this is something like the feeling of anti-vivisectionists with regard to the suffering of the victims of the physiological laboratory. The frightful thought that every day the rising sun will witness the commencement of hundreds of long drawn martyrdoms of inoffensive creatures throughout Christendom; the thought that every evening when we go to our rest the silence of night will but bring to these unhappy beings prolonged suffering, terror and agonizing death; the thought that such things take place, not by accident, or by nature, in far-off uncivilized countries, but here, in our midst, in the heart of our towns, next door, maybe, to our own home, by deliberate, organized, systematic law-abiding act – this is what tears the heart, embitters life and forces us to the reflection that, after all, human civilization and human progress are but fever dreams, futile, meaningless and grotesque.


            And this is why, when the vivisectors ask us angrily, “What right have you to meddle with the researches of scientific men?” that we turn upon them with greater anger and retort in our turn, “What right have you to render earth uninhabitable and life insupportable for men with hearts in their bosoms?”


            It is not the fact, as the partisans of vivisection are never weary of declaring, that the public has shown itself incapable of judging scientific necessities, but rather that the scientists have shown themselves incapable of recognizing the obligations of public morality.

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If in matters of technical physiology it be fair to regard the public as “profane,” it is equally correct to regard the experts of vivisection as “profane” in relation to the principles of moral conduct. Does the diploma of physiologists entitle them to pose as the exclusive arbiters of morality? Or is it not rather the truth that, being themselves indifferent to the interests of morality and incompetent to deal with psychic considerations, they assume the defenders of these to be ignorant of scientific exigencies and incapable of understanding them, solely because of their own moral blindness?”


            Now, the fact is that the question is quite as much of moral as of physical interest.


            If society be right in refusing to recognize the infallibility of a purely ecclesiastical caste in matters affecting the public conscience – as, for instance, in respect of religious persecution – it is equally right in refusing to admit the assumption of infallibility on the part of a caste exclusively scientific and materialistic in matters similarly affecting the public conscience. It was in the teeth of powerful vested interests that the world rejected compromise with the Inquisition and with the slave traffic, and the same considerations which influenced civilized men in dealing with these institutions must equally influence them to-day, face to face with the claims and interests of vivisection.


            It is vain to urge that the majority of modern torturers for science’s sake are educated, intelligent and eminent men, illustrious savants, venerable professors, who are themselves the best judges of what is necessary for science – who may safely be trusted to act

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for the best, and who are pre-eminently humane and sympathetic in their conduct and methods. Precisely the same was said with equal truth of the majority of torturers for religion’s sake. They, too, were the learned, reverend and eminent men of their time, and like the vivisectors, were often genial and polished members of society, chiefs of distinction, dignitaries of high importance in the State. And there is no reason to doubt that the atrocities of which they were the eager authors and contrivers were instigated, not by a love of cruelty, but by zeal for the honor of religion and for the advance of the church, and by ardor for the good of humanity.


            Every custom that the world has seen, whatever its barbarity, has found apologists, simply because of its being a custom.


            History shows us that the abolition of human and other sacrifices in religious cults was in its time denounced as a menace for the faith, as an evidence of morbid sensibility and a symptom of degeneracy. Gladiatorial combats, cruel and barbarous amusements of all kinds, formerly popular, have in their turn been suppressed, and always in spite of the clamorous protestations of persons interested in their maintenance. No pretext based on the pretended utility of vivisection ought to exempt it from the category of practice unworthy of a civilized era.


            The abuse of force is an inexcusable crime and shame in those who claim despotic authority, and to seek to justify such abuse by representing it as a means of attaining a praiseworthy end is to argue, as did a certain celebrated brigand, who attempted to excuse

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his acts of violence by saying, “If I have committed robbery, I have robbed only heretics with the intention of enriching the coffers of the true Church.”


            Cruelty is always cruel, and only Jesuits and Paul Berts will dare to rehabilitate the sophistry expressed in the ecclesiastical axiom, “The end justifies the means,” even when the “end” is “scientific progress,” the means “suffering the most atrocious that the imagination can conceive,” and the victims, beings incapable of defending themselves or of avenging their wrongs.


            Happily for humanity, the arbiters of the national conscience are neither the ecclesiastics nor the biologists, but the people.


            I reflect on the history of the Inquisition, of slavery and of despotism, and I have confidence in the future!


            There is a better gospel than that of intellectual science; there is a higher law than that of physical utility. Do not let us fear, any of us, that by living up to the best and noblest in us we shall miss any good thing that might have been ours by baser means. The greater includes the lesser, and the science of Heaven encompasses all lower knowledges. Only let us seek first the kingdom of God and God’s justice, and all these things shall be added unto us. There is nothing the righteous man may not know, for the spirit in him is divine, and able to unfold all secrets in their order.


            For love is the universal solvent, and love’s method is in all its unfoldings consistent with its object and intent.


            In conclusion, I recommend specially to my brethren of the medical faculty those brave and worthy

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words which Dr. Samuel Johnson addressed to the physiologists of his day:


            “May all men of heart who follow the noble science of medicine, the aim of which is the relief of suffering, publicly condemn the practices of vivisection, for they are of a nature to discredit their profession, and will end by extinguishing in their votaries those sentiments which alone deserve the confidence of the public, and the absence of which is more to be dreaded than the worst of physical evils.”




(294:1) Of course I use the word “spiritualist” in its real and original sense, as opposed to “materialist.” – e.g., regarding the universe as having a spiritual and intelligent basis. I do not employ the word as a synonym for any special doctrines other than this.



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