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The surgical mutilation of the bodies of animals for purposes of experimentation or research. Although none of the theosophical organizations have promulgated any official pronouncement regarding vivisection, many very prominent members have done so in trenchant terms. Notable among such members are Helena P. Blavatsky, Annie Besant, Rukmini Arundale and Anna Kingsford.

In a lengthy article entitled “Have Animals Souls?” Blavatsky denounced the sordid practice of vivisection in no uncertain terms. At the time she wrote, vivisection was practiced in the medical schools without benefit of anaesthetic and, according to her, the tortured animals, if they had not died under the knife, were stored away so that they could be reused the next day. She concludes this long article thus:

The writer is not simple enough to imagine, that a whole British Museum filled with works against meat diet, would have the effect of stopping civilized nations from having slaughter-houses, or of making them renounce their beefsteak and Christmas goose. But if these humble lines could make a few readers realize the real value of St. Paul’s noble words, and thereby seriously turn their thoughts to all the horrors of vivisection — then the writer would be content. For verily when the world feels convinced — and it cannot avoid one day coming to such a conviction — that animals are creatures as eternal as we ourselves, vivisection and other permanent tortures, daily inflicted on the poor brutes, will, after calling forth an outburst of maledictions and threats from society generally, force all Governments to put an end to those barbarous and shameful practices. (CW VII:49).

Although early writing in the Theosophical Society tended to focus on the question of whether animals have souls, later thinking has concentrated on the degree of sensibility to pain experienced by animals. Vivisectors have long maintained that animals do not experience pain to anything like the same extent that humans do. Since it is difficult to measure the level of pain experienced by any animal, the discussion has not been fruitful, but it has been pointed out that anyone who has heard the cries of animals in the abattoirs or heard the piercing howls of a dog whose paw has been trodden on would surely come to the conclusion that animals suffer pain and indeed there are many cases on record where horses have been known to be driven mad by the bites of horseflies (Tabanidae).

Today it would be safe to say that very few theosophists support vivisection no matter for what reason and the campaign against the practice continues in many countries. There has been some success in that most universities and other research institutions have had strict terms of method imposed on them in the use of animals for research and have to submit such proposals to ethics committees.


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