What is the Vedic perspective on animal killing for medical testing purposes?

by Chaitanya CharanJune 15, 2012

I am a research scientist at UCSF. Although I was raised a Vaishnav, but I am a neophyte Krsna devotee. I have a few questions that I need to discuss with Radhanath Swami regarding religion (Vaishnav tradition) and Science (Animal research in Biomedical field). As far as my knowledge goes this topic of animal research and religion hasn’t been discussed at length in Hinduism. The Vaishnav tradition prohibits animal killing and thus slaughter houses are condemned. Where do we stand on animal research? Is animal research acceptable because eventually we are helping human race or animals by finding ways to cure a certain disease? Lord Krishna says in Bhagavat Gita, chapter 18 verse 7, 8, and 9 – *”Prescribed duties should never be renounced. If one gives up his prescribed duties because of illusion, such renunciation is said to be in the mode of ignorance. Anyone who gives up prescribed duties as troublesome or out of fear of bodily discomfort is said to have renounced in the mode of passion. Such action never leads to the elevation of renunciation. O Arjuna , when one performs his prescribed duty only because it ought to be done, and renounces all material association and all attachment to the fruit, his renunciation is said to be in the mode of goodness.”* Can we justify scientific research on animal models such as mice as a prescribed duty of a scientist in a biomedical field because the research findings may potentially benefit human race (although this will be just physical and mental benefit and there will be no spiritual gain)? I know why animal research is necessary for scientific discoveries but I don’t know if is right or wrong. Are scientist committing terrible sins every time we do scientific research? Or, can we be unaffected by the sinful action of animal research if we conduct our research without attachment like Lord Krishna said in Bhagvat Gita, chapter 5 verse 10* “**One who performs his duty without attachment, surrendering the results unto the Supreme Lord, is unaffected by sinful action, as the lotus leaf is untouched by water.”* Lets say we accept animal research as a necessary evil for the “greater good,” but then what about research on embryonic stem cells. Is research on embryonic stem cell considered a sin because the embryos come from humans? If it is a sin, then aren’t we overlooking the fact that Lord Krsna is everywhere and resides in the every living being as a supersoul. We are taught to treat every living being on the same level because Lord Krsna resides in every living being and He does not discriminate among His children. What authority do we have to decide who gets to be the guinea pig? Where do we draw a line of what is acceptable and what is not?

Ans summary:

  1. Prescribed duty refers to that duty which is prescribed in the scriptures or is at least in harmony with the overall principles given in the scriptures. Animal killing for the purpose of testing isn’t in either category.
  1. As all living beings are the children of God, killing them is like killing our own brothers and sisters, and so incurs a heavy karmic penalty. (See Prabhupada quote below)
  1. The same principle would apply to embryonic cell research; there’s a soul in the embryo that is as much a child of God as is any other soul.
  2. With the guidance of a mature senior devotee who knows the field, one can re-adjust one’s career focus so that one can avoid such violent activities just for the sake of a livelihood.


Indian lady: Swamiji, what would happen if a person (unintelligible)

Prabhupada: I cannot follow.

Indian lady: (unintelligible)

Pradyumna: In college if they start to study biology or zoology, it involves killing animals, dissection. Is that a sin?

Prabhupada: Yes, certainly. You cannot kill even an ant.

Indian lady: Then you could give up such study?

Prabhupada: That is your business. What can I say? (laughter) But any kind of animal killing is sin, sinful. [break] Krishna says, sarva-yonishu sambhavanti murtayo yah, tasam mahad yonir brahma aham bija-pradah pita [Bg. 14.4]. Krishna says that “I am the seed-giving father of all living entities in any form.” Sarva-yonishu. Sarva means all, 8,400,000 species and forms. So Krishna is the father, and all living entities are part and parcel of the Lord. They have different dresses according to different karma, but actually, every living entity is part and parcel of God, sons. So suppose a father has got ten sons and one of them or two of them are useless. So if the elder brother wants to make some experiment by killing the younger brother, would the father be pleased? No. Father will be sorry even the intelligent boy is killed or the dull boy is killed. For father, there is no such distinction. Similarly, you cannot kill animals without being sanctioned. That sanction is in the sacrifice. I have already explained, for testing. According to Vedic system, if you kill anybody, then you must be responsible for the sinful life. (end)

Bhagavad-gita 4.20-24, New York, August 9, 1966

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Chaitanya Charan