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Can Baha’is Use Birth Control?

Birth Control is such a widely accepted practice these days, that the “right to choose” is often an unexamined assumption.  But what do the Baha’i Writings tell us?  Is it OK, or isn’t it?

First of all, we know that the soul of man comes into being at conception

You have raised the point about the time of the appearance of human soul. You are quite right in your deduction in this regard, as our teachings clearly confirm that the soul of man comes into being at conception.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 345-346)

It should be pointed out, however, that the Teachings state that the soul appears at conception, and that therefore it would be improper to use a method, the effect of which would be to produce an abortion after the conception has taken place.  (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

According to the Bahá’í Teachings the human soul starts with the formation of the embryo, and continues to develop and pass through stages of existence after its separation from the body. Its progress is thus infinite.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 204)

Secondly, we know that the purpose of marriage is primarily to raise up a new generation who will know and worship God.

Both Baha’u’llah and the Báb emphasized the need of children in marriage.  The latter, for example, states that to beget children is the highest physical fruit of man’s existence.  But neither say whether the number of children should be limited or not.  Or if it is to be limited, what the proper method to be used.  (Shoghi Effendi, Throne of the Inner Temple. P. 6)

In a letter written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual he has further pointed out that the ‘chief and sacred purpose’ of marriage is ‘the perpetuation of the human race… and its elevation to the true station destined for it by God.’ In another letter written on his behalf it is stated: ‘…the fundamental purpose of marriage is to bring other souls into this world, to serve God and love Him.’  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 345)

To use birth control in order to have no children at all thwarts the purpose of marriage.  (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

So with that in mind, even though neither Bahá’u’lláh nor ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has revealed anything direct or explicit regarding this question, we can see that birth control, except in certain exceptional cases, is not permitted:

As to the problem of birth control. Neither Bahá’u’lláh nor ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has revealed anything direct or explicit regarding this question. But the Bahá’í Teachings, when carefully studied imply that such current conceptions like birth control, if not necessarily wrong and immoral in principle, have nevertheless to be discarded as constituting a real danger to the very foundation of our social life. For Bahá’u’lláh explicitly reveals in His Book of Laws that the very purpose of marriage is the procreation of children who, when grown up, will be able to know God and to recognize and observe His Commandments and Laws as revealed through His Messengers. Marriage is thus, according to the Bahá’í Teachings, primarily a social and moral act. It has purpose which transcends the immediate personal needs and interests of the parties.  Birth control, except in certain exceptional cases, is therefore not permissible.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 345)

We are obligated to avoid any action which would permanently prevent us from bearing children: 

As to your desire and that of your husband to avoid any action which would permanently prevent you from bearing children, the only text we have so far found on the subjects is in a letter to an individual believer from the beloved Guardian. The question asked was whether after a few children it would be permissible to have a surgical operation on the wife to prevent further conception. His reply was that such an act was inacceptable and unworthy, and those who commit the act were responsible before God.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 346)

 This includes vasectomy:

Directly to your question about having a vasectomy, in general it is not permissible to have a surgical operation for the purpose of avoiding having unwanted children if such an operation could result in permanent sterility.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 346)

And tubal ligation:

The Universal House of Justice has received your letter of April 29 asking about tubal ligation and has noted that you are familiar with general Bahá’í principles on the subject. However, it has directed us to say that under normal circumstances it is not permissible to have a surgical operation for the purpose of not having more children if such an operation could result in permanent sterility. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 346)

If vasectomy and tubal ligation are reversible and do not result in permanent sterility, they would not fall under this prohibition:

Under normal circumstances it is not permissible to have a surgical operation for the purpose of not having more children if such an operation could result in permanent sterility. Bahá’ís considering such a step must be guided by the Bahá’í principles involved, the best professional advice available to them, and their own consciences. If it is established that vasectomy and tubal ligation are operations the effects of which are reversible and which, therefore, do not result in permanent sterility, they would not fall under this prohibition.  (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

With regards to intrauterine devices, Bahá’ís will have to be guided by the best professional advice available and their own consciences:

As to the use of intrauterine devices, we understand that there is a difference of professional opinion as to how they work, i.e. whether they prevent conception or whether they prevent the fertilized ovum from attaching to the wall of the uterus.  However, the Guardian has stated that the individual life begins at conception.  In using such devices, therefore, Bahá’ís will have to be guided by the best professional advice available and their own consciences.  There is nothing in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, however, concerning the placing of foreign materials in the body for preventing birth.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 264)

Sterilization is permitted if required for medical reasons: 

Sterilization, however, would be a more far-reaching action that any of these, with implications and results beyond those necessary for the immediate purpose of limiting the size of your family, and is not permissible in Bahá’í law except in rare instances where it is necessary for a medical reason.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 347)

Hysterectomies to prevent conception are inacceptable and unworthy, and those who commit the act will be responsible before God:

As to your desire and that of your husband to avoid any action which would permanently prevent you from bearing children, the only text we have so far found on the subjects is in a letter to an individual believer from the beloved Guardian. The question asked was whether after a few children it would be permissible to have a surgical operation on the wife to prevent further conception. His reply was that such an act was inacceptable and unworthy, and those who commit the act were responsible before God.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 345-346)

Abortion to prevent the birth of an unwanted child is strictly forbidden:

Abortion merely to prevent the birth of an unwanted child is strictly forbidden in the Cause. There may, however, be instances in which an abortion would be justified by medical reasons, and legislation on this matter has been left to the Universal House of Justice. At the present time, however, the House of Justice does not intend to legislate on this very delicate issue, and therefore it is left to the consciences of those concerned who must carefully weigh the medical advice in the light of the general guidance given in the teachings.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 343)

If there are circumstances which justify such actions on medical grounds, the decision is left to the consciences of those concerned who must carefully weigh the medical advice in the light of the general guidance given in the Teachings:

Abortion and surgical operations for the purpose of preventing the birth of unwanted children are forbidden in the Cause unless there are circumstances which justify such actions on medical grounds, in which case the decision, at present, is left to the consciences of those concerned who must carefully weigh the medical advice in the light of the general guidance given in the Teachings. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 344)

If a believer becomes pregnant as a consequence of rape, it is for her to decide on the course of action she should follow, taking into consideration medical and other relevant factors, and in the light of the Bahá’í Teachings:

One of the most heinous of sexual offences is the crime of rape. When a believer is a victim, she is entitled to the loving aid and support of the members of her community, and she is free to initiate action against the perpetrator under the law of the land should she wish to do so. If she becomes pregnant as a consequence of this assault, no pressure should be brought upon her by the Bahá’í institutions to marry. As to whether she should continue or terminate the pregnancy, it is for her to decide on the course of action she should follow, taking into consideration medical and other relevant factors, and in the light of the Bahá’í Teachings. If she gives birth to a child as a result of the rape, it is left to her discretion whether to seek financial support for the maintenance of the child from the father; however, his claim to any parental rights would, under Bahá’í law, be called into question, in view of the circumstances.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1992, Violence and Sexual Abuse of Women and Children)

With regards to terminating a pregnancy following the discovery through amniocentesis of a severely handicapped foetus, this is a matter left to the judgment of capable professionals and the consciences of the parents:

As to the permissibility of terminating a pregnancy following the discovery through amniocentesis of a severely handicapped foetus, this is a matter left to the judgement of capable professionals in the field, and the consciences of the parents. As you are aware, the Bahá’í Writings prohibit the practice of abortion solely for the purpose of terminating unwanted pregnancies; however, circumstances may occur in which an abortion would be justifiable. The Texts of the Faith do not specify what these circumstances are, and the House of Justice does not wish to legislate on this matter presently. (Universal House of Justice, Reproduction and other Biological Subjects, 21 May 1992, to an individual)

For more information on abortion please see Abortion and the Baha’i Faith

In making these decisions, Baha’is should be guided by:

  • the Bahá’í principles involved
  • the best professional advice available
  • their own consciences

It is clear that to have surgical operation merely to avoid unwanted children is not acceptable. However, as in the case of abortion, circumstances might exist in which such an operation would be justified. Individual believers called upon to make such a decision must be guided by the Bahá’í principles involved, the best professional advice available to them and their own consciences. In arriving at a decision the parties must also take into consideration the availability, reliability, and reversibility of all contraceptive methods.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 347)

Self-discipline and restraint are acceptable ways to prevent conception:

You and your husband, therefore, should have no feeling that you are obliged to add to your already large family. This is a matter entirely for you to decide, and there are many methods of preventing conception, including self-discipline and restraint, to which you can have recourse.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 347)

For more on this topic, please see:  My Will vs God’s Will in Getting Pregnant 

With all of that in mind, it’s up to the couple to decide how many children to have:

There is nothing in the Sacred Writings specifically on the subjects of birth control, abortion or sterilization, but Bahá’u’lláh did state the primary  purpose of marriage was the procreation of children, and it is to this primary purpose that the beloved Guardian alludes in many of the letters which are quoted in the compilation. This does not imply that a couple are obliged to have as many children as they can; the Guardian’s secretary clearly stated on his behalf, in answer to an enquiry, that it was for the husband and wife to decide how many children they would have. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 346-347)

You and your husband, therefore, should have no feeling that you are obliged to add to your already large family. This is a matter entirely for you to decide, and there are many methods of preventing conception, including self-discipline and restraint, to which you can have recourse. Sterilization, however, would be a more far-reaching action that any of these, with implications and results beyond those necessary for the immediate purpose of limiting the size of your family, and is not permissible in Bahá’í law except in rare instances where it is necessary for a medical reason.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 347)

For more on this topic, please see:  Having a Baby will Fix Everything

If we’re concerned about preventing a pregnancy which could result in undesirable family traits and tendencies, these matters will be decided by the House of Justice in the future, but for now this decision is left to the individual believers involved:

With regard to your question whether it would be permissible for a believer to limit the number of his children by the use of contraceptive methods, in order to prevent the transmission through inheritance of undesirable family traits and tendencies; this, the Guardian wishes me to inform you, is a question to which there is no specific reference in the Teachings, and should therefore be explained and decided upon by the International House of Justice. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 347)

When asked about sterilization of the mentally deficient or the physically unfit the Guardian pointed out that there is no reference to this in the Teachings. Neither is there anything in the Teachings about the use of contraceptive methods in order to prevent the transmission through inheritance of undesirable family traits and tendencies. These are, therefore, matters which the Universal House of Justice will have to consider in future. We do not wish to legislate on such matters now, and therefore leave the decision in each case to the individual believers involved.  (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Whatever the number of children the couple decides on, it’s important to remember that God will protect His own so we do not have to face the future with fear, but with glad and assured hearts:

Regarding your question of whether you should have more children or not, the Guardian feels that this is a matter for you and your husband to decide.  However, we must always bear in mind that God will protect His own and that the Baha’i  children are the future servants of mankind who will help to carry the world forward into the glorious New Order which Baha’u’llah has prepared for it in this day of days.  We should not face the future with fear, but with glad and assured hearts.  (Universal House of Justice, Throne of the Inner Temple, p. 8)

A decision to have no children at all would vitiate the primary purpose of marriage unless there was a medical reason why such a decision would be required:

A decision to have no children at all would vitiate the primary purpose of marriage unless, of course, there were some medical reason why such a decision would be required.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 346-347)

The House of Justice does not wish to comment on the effectiveness or possible hazards of present-day contraceptive agents:

As to birth control methods, the House of Justice does not wish to comment on the effectiveness or possible hazards of present-day contraceptive agents, and leaves it to individuals to decide what course of action they will take in light of the teachings and the best medical advice available.  (Universal House of Justice, Birth Control and Related Subjects, p. 3)

With regards to birth control as a means to slow down population explosion:

We have not discovered any specific reference in the texts to the problem of  population explosion in its relation to birth control. This question, of course, is a matter which is currently a subject of concern and speculation by many. A study of our teachings, however, indicates that in the future there will no doubt be a general improvement of standards of life and of health, but there will also be the full exploitation of unused and as yet unsuspected resources of the planet along with the control and tapping of its raw material, with a great increase in productivity.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 345-346)

Guidance to a Physician:

Since you are a physician specializing in obstetrics and gynecology, your professional decisions in this field are frequent and difficult ones. In each individual case your physician’s judgement and your Bahá’í conscience should guide you to the correct decision whenever permanent sterilization of a patient is contemplated. Of the four categories you have listed, only the first, grave sickness of the mother, clearly falls within Bahá’í permissibility. In the Second category, only grave genetic defects, but obviously not all genetic defects could be considered to be valid cause for intervention. As for lack of social and financial means, and anticipation of supernumerary children where individual maternal request is decisive, neither can be acceptable as reasons for permanent sterilization.  What can now be considered to be a form of family fertility control for some patients are those methods of intervention which are reversible and therefore do not necessarily bring about permanent sterility. Where such methods have been employed, the wish by patients to have additional children, for whatever reason, can be realized through a corrective operation.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 348-349)

All Bahá’ís are subject to Bahá’í law and Bahá’í standards. It would clearly be unacceptable for a Bahá’í doctor to advocate abortion as a method of birth control and set up a clinic for that purpose, or for a Bahá’í psychiatrist to publicly advocate sexual intercourse before marriage.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1992 Dec 10, Issues Related to Study Compilation)

Conclusion

Since there is no reference whatsoever in the Writings on this subject, Bahá’ís are not in a position to either condemn the practice of birth control or to confirm it:

The Guardian has … given his careful consideration to your question regarding the Bahá’í view of birth control.  ‘…there is no reference whatsoever in the Writings on this subject. The utmost we can say is by way of reference from what Bahá’u’lláh has revealed regarding the nature, purpose and character of marriage.  ‘We, as Bahá’ís, are not therefore in a position either to condemn the practice of birth control or to confirm it.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 346)

The Universal House of Justice will have to consider this issue in the future and give its verdict upon it.  In the meantime, individuals will have to make their own choices, based on these principles.

The Universal House of Justice feels that the time has not yet arrived for legislation on this matter, and that these instructions provide sufficient guidance for the friends for the time being.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 346)

It should also be noted that it is neither possible nor desirable for the Universal House of Justice to set forth a set of rules covering every situation. Rather is it the task of the individual believer to determine, according to his own prayerful understanding of the Writings, precisely what his course of conduct should be in relation to situations which he encounters in his daily life. If he is to fulfil his true mission in life as a follower of the Blessed Perfection, he will pattern his life according to the Teachings. The believer cannot attain this objective merely by living according to a set of rigid regulations. When his life is oriented towards service to Bahá’u’lláh, and when every conscious act is performed within this frame of reference, he will not fail to achieve the true purpose of his life.  (Universal House of Justice, Legislating on Morality, 5 June 1988)

Individual believers called upon to make such a decision must be guided by the Bahá’í principles involved, the best professional advice available to them and their own consciences. In arriving at a decision the parties must also take into consideration the availability, reliability, and reversibility of all contraceptive methods.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 347)

Although we might want to eliminate all grey areas, there should be enough information above for couples to allow their consciences to decide:

The principles pertaining to these issues are available in the book “Lights of Guidance” and elsewhere. In studying these principles, it should be noted that in most areas of human behaviour there are acts which are clearly contrary to the law of God and others which are clearly approved or permissible; between these there is often a grey area where it is not immediately apparent what should be done. It has been a human tendency to wish to eliminate these grey areas so that every aspect of life is clearly prescribed. A result of this tendency has been the tremendous accretion of interpretation and subsidiary legislation which has smothered the spirit of certain of the older religions. In the Bahá’í Faith moderation, which is so strongly upheld by Bahá’u’lláh, is applied here also. Provision is made for supplementary legislation by the Universal House of Justice — legislation which it can itself abrogate and amend as conditions change. There is also a clear pattern already established in the Sacred Scriptures, in the interpretations made by `Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, and in the decisions so far made by the Universal House of Justice, whereby an area of the application of the laws is intentionally left to the conscience of each individual believer. This is the age in which mankind must attain maturity, and one aspect of this is the assumption by individuals of the responsibility for deciding, with the assistance of consultation, their own course of action in areas which are left open by the law of God.  (Universal House of Justice, Legislating on Morality, 5 June 1988)

 

Abortion and the Bahá’í Faith

 

One of my readers asked:

I have a friend who is not a Bahá’í who is planning on getting an abortion. I am hesitant to get involved in any way and uncertain as to whether I should share the Faith’s view that a soul comes into existence at conception. I do feel very responsible for being aware that an embryo is a spiritual being, which she doesn’t seem to know/comprehend, and not doing anything. Any thoughts on this if you have time?

 I replied:

What a great question! Let’s start by looking at what the Writings say about abortion.

The soul appears at conception so it would be improper to have an abortion after conception has taken place:

It should be pointed out, however, that the Teachings state that the soul appears at conception, and that therefore it would be improper to use such a method, the effect of which would be to produce an abortion after conception has taken place. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 344)

Abortion and surgical operations for the purpose of preventing the birth of unwanted children are forbidden in the Cause unless there are circumstances which justify such actions on medical grounds:

Abortion and surgical operations for the purpose of preventing the birth of unwanted children are forbidden in the Cause unless there are circumstances which justify such actions on medical grounds, in which case the decision, at present, is left to the consciences of those concerned who must carefully weigh the medical advice in the light of the general guidance given in the Teachings. Beyond this nothing has been found in the Writings concerning specific methods or procedures to be used in family planning. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 344)

Abortion to prevent the birth of an unwanted child is strictly forbidden in the Cause.

Abortion merely to prevent the birth of an unwanted child is strictly forbidden in the Cause. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 343)

Circumstances might exist in which such an operation would be justified. In that situation, individual believers are called upon to make such a decision guided by the Bahá’í principles involved, the best professional advice available to them and their own consciences.

It is clear that to have surgical operation merely to avoid unwanted children is not acceptable. However, as in the case of abortion, circumstances might exist in which such an operation would be justified. Individual believers called upon to make such a decision must be guided by the Bahá’í principles involved, the best professional advice available to them and their own consciences. In arriving at a decision the parties must also take into consideration the availability, reliability, and reversibility of all contraceptive methods. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 347)

Terminating a pregnancy following the discovery through amniocentesis of a severely handicapped foetus is a matter left to the judgment of capable professionals in the field, and the consciences of the parents

As to the permissibility of terminating a pregnancy following the discovery through amniocentesis of a severely handicapped foetus, this is a matter left to the judgement of capable professionals in the field, and the consciences of the parents. (Universal House of Justice, 21 May 1992, to an individual)

If a Baha’i becomes pregnant as a result of rape, it is for her to decide whether she should continue or terminate the pregnancy, and no pressure should be brought on her by Baha’i Institutions to marry:

One of the most heinous of sexual offences is the crime of rape. When a believer is a victim, she is entitled to the loving aid and support of the members of her community, and she is free to initiate action against the perpetrator under the law of the land should she wish to do so. If she becomes pregnant as a consequence of this assault, no pressure should be brought upon her by the Bahá’í institutions to marry. As to whether she should continue or terminate the pregnancy, it is for her to decide on the course of action she should follow, taking into consideration medical and other relevant factors, and in the light of the Bahá’í Teachings. If she gives birth to a child as a result of the rape, it is left to her discretion whether to seek financial support for the maintenance of the child from the father; however, his claim to any parental rights would, under Bahá’í law, be called into question, in view of the circumstances. (The Universal House of Justice, 1992, Violence and Sexual Abuse of Women and Children)

At present, the House of Justice does not intend to legislate on this very delicate issue, so it’s left to the consciences of those concerned, who must carefully weigh medical advice in light of the general guidance in the Baha’i Writings:

Legislation on this matter has been left to the Universal House of Justice. At the present time, however, the House of Justice does not intend to legislate on this very delicate issue, and therefore it is left to the consciences of those concerned who must carefully weigh the medical advice in the light of the general guidance given in the teachings. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 343)

It would be unacceptable for a Bahá’í doctor to advocate abortion as a method of birth control and set up a clinic for that purpose:

All Bahá’ís are subject to Bahá’í law and Bahá’í standards. It would clearly be unacceptable for a Bahá’í doctor to advocate abortion as a method of birth control and set up a clinic for that purpose, or for a Bahá’í psychiatrist to publicly advocate sexual intercourse before marriage. (The Universal House of Justice, 1992 Dec 10, Issues Related to Study Compilation)

Knowing all of this, of course you’d want to protect the life of the unborn child, and perhaps even save your friend from being considered a murderer in the eyes of God!

Keeping silent on this topic, however, might be one of the biggest tests of your life!

Not everything that a man knoweth can be disclosed, nor can everything that he can disclose be regarded as timely, nor can every timely utterance be considered as suited to the capacity of those who hear it. (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 268)

Rather than teaching your friend about the rules and regulations, it’s much better to fan the spark of faith with the love of God:

The Process of educating people of different customs and backgrounds must be done with the greatest patience and understanding, and rules and regulations not imposed upon them, except where a rock-bottom essential is in question. He feels sure that your Assembly is capable of carrying on its work in this spirit, and of fanning the hears to flame through the fire of the love of God, rather than putting out the first sparks with buckets, full of administrative information and regulations. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 78)

As with everything in the Faith, one topic cannot be examined without understanding a LOT of other principles, which isn’t always possible or desirable for a seeker without giving them spiritual indigestion!

You ask about ’spiritual indigestion’: Bahá’ís should seek to be many-sided, normal and well-balanced, mentally and spiritually. We must not give the impression of being fanatics but at the same time we must live up to our principles. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 112)

For example, Farzin Aghdasi gave a course for the Association for Baha’i Studies in Southern Africa (April-June 2000) on Reproductive Health, Abortion, Sacredness of Life, and Women’s Choice, in which she examined this topic from 33 following perspectives:

  • History of oppression against women
  • Societal patterns that would imprison women at home & abandon them to chores including child rearing
  • Religious support for mistreatment of women
  • Neglected condition of women’s health issues
  • Irresponsible male behaviour towards pregnancy, and maintenance of family
  • Consequences of sexual revolution, and unwanted pregnancies
  • Asserting women’s rights not to become victims vs. a licence for promiscuity or carelessness
  • Teenage pregnancy
  • Illegal, back street abortions
  • Timing of the appearance of the soul
  • Debates around when to consider the foetus as a separate individual
  • Viability of an independent life, and the first tri-mester
  • The potential for growth, and the definition of the individual
  • The right to life, and its limits
  • The role of education, and availability of counselling to women
  • Sex education before puberty
  • Moral education and abstention, vs. practical safe-sex lessons
  • The roles of the family and the school system
  • Building character and pride in nobility
  • Family planning: education, the tools and support system
  • Birth control: avoiding pregnancy vs. early termination
  • Mechanical, chemical and surgical tools for birth control
  • Social support systems for untimely pregnancy
  • Dealing with unwanted children
  • Adoption
  • African community practices that support social security
  • Abortion in rape cases
  • The unhealthy outcome of a politically polarized debate
  • Pure motives and an intelligent search for the solutions
  • The role of consultation
  • Finding pragmatic solutions to difficult situations
  • Strengthening Baha’i Assemblies to seek solutions within cultural context
  • A statement to the South African Government as part of the public debate on termination of pregnancy act.

This shows that the topic of abortion is a complex topic, which is probably why the House doesn’t want to legislate on this topic just yet. First we have to deal with the roots of the problem!

Another thing to consider, is that as a non-Bahá’í, she is not bound by the laws, because she hasn’t accepted Bahá’u’lláh’s authority. In a letter written by the House of Justice regarding a gay couple who wanted to declare, we read:

If persons involved in homosexual relationships express an interest in the Faith, they should not be instructed by Bahá’í institutions to separate so that they may enroll in the Bahá’í community, for this action by any institution may conflict with civil law. The Bahá’í position should be patiently explained to such persons, who should also be given to understand that although in their hearts they may accept Baha’u’llah, they cannot join the Bahá’í community in the current condition of their relationship. They will then be free to draw their own conclusions and act accordingly. Within this context, the question you pose about the possibility of the removal of administrative rights should, therefore, not arise. (Universal House of Justice, 5 March 1999 to an individual)

What this suggests to me is that even if people want to become Bahá’ís, (which your friend does not yet), if they know the law and don’t want to abide by it, it’s better that they not declare, so that they can continue living a life outside the law.

Our job as individuals is to be loving and forgiving:

In their relationships with one another individual believers should be loving and forgiving, overlooking one another’s faults for the sake of God, but the Spiritual Assemblies are the upholders of the law of God. They are embryonic Houses of Justice. The education of a child requires both love and discipline; so also does the education of believers and the education of a community. One of the failings of Bahá’ís, however, is to confuse these two roles, individuals behaving like little Spiritual Assemblies, and Spiritual Assemblies forgetting that they must exercise justice. (The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 499)

Even Bahá’í institutions in this situation, would be required to be one of education, encouragement, assistance and counsel:

The institutions of the Faith … do not pry into the personal lives of individuals. Nor are they vindictive and judgmental, eager to punish those who fall short of the Bahá’í standard. Except in extreme cases of blatant and flagrant disregard for the law that could potentially harm the Cause and may require them to administer sanctions, their attention is focused on encouragement, assistance, counsel, and education. (Universal House of Justice to an individual, 19 April 2013)

You might find it helpful to read another Bahá’í author on this topic:

One Bahá’ís Approach – Abortion

Finally, I’d like to end with a Baha’i Statement on Termination of Pregnancy, submitted by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of South Africa in response to the call by the Parliament of South Africa for public submissions prior to legislative action, which might give some other ideas:

The subject of wilful termination of pregnancy has been a controversial subject of great importance to many societies. Its many aspects have been discussed, argued, and debated with great conviction by many people in the last two decades. Despite much soul searching and sincere efforts many societies who have already legislated on this subject still find themselves with an unhappy state of affairs. Whatever the merits of these arguments on either side of the issue may have been, one thing is clear to the unbiased observer, namely that it has been a divisive subject. The Baha’i teachings offer a different and unified approach.

The primary purpose here is not to prescribe a specific course of action, but rather to present a universal framework, and to elaborate on those principles that must guide our collective search for a wise and just solution.

The fundamental Baha’i teaching is the oneness of mankind. This is the principle which is the pivot round which all the Teachings of Baha’u’llah, the prophet-founder of the Baha’i Faith, revolve. It has widespread implications, which affect and remould all dimensions of human activity. It calls for a fundamental change in the manner in which people relate to each other, and the eradication of those age-old practices which deny the intrinsic human right of every individual to be treated with consideration and respect.

The Baha’i sacred texts affirm the essential nobility of all human beings irrespective of colour, class, creed, gender or age. Each individual member of human race is a trust of the whole. “Nobel have I created thee, yet thou hast abased thyself. Rise then unto that for which thou wast created,” are the revealed words written by Baha’u’llah. The sources of this nobility are the God-given talents, capacities and potentialities in each one of us. These endowments which distinguish the human race from all other forms of life are summed up in what is known as the human spirit.

The human spirit, or soul, is not confined to certain individual members of the species. It is the essential characteristic of all humans, much the same as heat is an essential quality of fire, or growth is the inseparable quality of the vegetable kingdom. The seed of a plant or a tree has all the attributes of the tree in a concealed form. In like manner a fertilised human egg has all the potentialities and attributes of man albeit in a concealed form. The human soul of an individual therefore comes to existence at the moment of conception. For this reason alone the practice of deliberate termination of pregnancy cannot be regarded as a routine solution for family planning.

While the soul is created at the moment of conception, it will continue to acquire perfections in this life and in the world beyond.

Recognition of this cardinal principle would determine our attitude towards human embryo. To treat either the embryo or the foetus as anything other than a human is to deny its latent potentialities. To consider a properly fertilised human egg as merely a biochemical object, to be disposed of at will, is no different than to reduce our own humanity to a clump of biochemical material in a sack made of skin, and devoid of all meaning or purpose.

Equally, the interpretation of embryo as a part of a woman’s own body, or determination of the exact age at which foetus becomes independently viable is to miss the point about the ultimate potential of a being who, for a while, is dependent on the good will of another person – the mother – whose unique privilege it is to extend such a gift of love, as life itself.

Considerations such as this make it abundantly clear that the resolution of these complex social problems does not reside in a mere code of legal practice. The social forces that demand the right of women to ask for abortion need to be addressed in an integrated and wholesome fashion.

The Baha’i Faith recognises the natural existence and the value of the sexual impulse, but it also believes in its regulation. The proper use of the sex instinct is the natural right of every individual, and it is precisely for this very purpose that the institution of marriage has been established and is regarded as a fortress for well being. The sexual expression is therefore confined between lawfully married couples. Observance of chastity before and fidelity during marriage therefore should be an integral part of one’s moral upbringing.

Within the family also there are definite relationships that define the role of its members. In this context the Baha’i Faith categorically declares the equality of men and women. All decisions should be arrived at as a result of a frank, free and loving consultative process within the family. Specifically the act of procreation must enjoy the consent of both husband and wife. In this aspect of the marital relationship, as in all others, mutual consideration and respect should apply. In view of the greater responsibilities of women, who not only will have to bear the child for 9 months, but who also must act as the first teacher of that child a greater measure of say must be accorded her in deciding when to fall pregnant.

The supreme role of education in this matter, as in so many other areas relevant to a developing society is abundantly clear.

Effective means of family planning, and provision of reliable methods of contraceptives should be encouraged. Those contraceptive methods that function by destroying the fertilised egg clearly vitiate against the principle of sanctity of the life of the embryo.

If the social support structures are in place, then the practice of abortion for the sole purpose of getting rid of unwanted children and without any extenuating circumstances is unacceptable to conscientious people.

As is the case with most matters of the law, such exceptional circumstances will always exist and should be catered for. One obvious case in question is where medical opinion determines that there are serious risks to the health of either the child or the mother, should pregnancy be allowed to continue. Another case is when the mother had no choice in the decision to conceive, and was a victim of rape, either as a result of violence or statutory grounds of being under legal age. In such circumstances the supportive attitude of the family, and the society will play an important role in making the decision to opt for abortion or to continue with the natural course of pregnancy, a decision which must ultimately rest with the mother. If after all the required counselling, and consideration of all the physical, medical, emotional, social and financial considerations, and the recognition of the potentials of the unborn child, the mother still opts for abortion, then the society must recognise her right not to be victimised. There may well exist other exceptional circumstances that would warrant the deliberate termination of pregnancy.

In summary, the Baha’i community, in its earnestness to contribute to the development process, wishes to stress that all those concerned with setting the human affairs aright would do well to first identify those salient spiritual principles that operate at the root of social issues. If these principles are used to guide our decisions then the outcome will be both enduring and beneficial to all segments of the society.

Of course, all of this is just my personal opinion, but hope it gives you something to think about! Let me know if I can be of further assistance!

Advice to Doctors

This is part ten of an eleven part series on the Baha’i Perspective on Disease.   In Part 1,  we looked at how I got interested in this topic and looked at some quotes on prevention of disease.  In Part 2, we looked at the reasons for disease.  In Part 3, we looked at the physical cause of disease, in Part 4 we looked at the spiritual causes, in Part 5 we looked at the effects of disease, in Part 6 we looked at the attitudes we want to strive for, when we are diseased, in Part 7 we looked at the spiritual treatments for disease,  in Part 8 we looked at the physical treatments for disease, in Part 9 we looked  at why people aren’t getting better, and in this part we look at advice given to doctors.

Study medicine:

Thou shouldst endeavour to study the science of medicine. It is extremely useful and serveth as the greatest instrument for the dissemination of the Cause. It is absolutely imperative that thou acquire this bounty. Strive day and night that thou mayest become highly qualified in this science.

And research:

These investigations you have so painstakingly pursued in the field of medical science, and on a subject which is still puzzling the minds of all the leading scientists in the world, cannot but be of a captivating interest and of a great value to all medical research workers.  It is significant that you as a believer should have undertaken a work of this nature, as we all know that the powers released by the Manifestation of Bahá’u’lláh in this day are destined, in the course of time, to reveal themselves through the instrumentality of His followers, and in every conceivable field of human endeavour.  That you should increasingly prove, through your confirmed researches in the domain of medicine, to be one of those instruments, is the fervent hope of our beloved Guardian.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 287)

Turn to God and ask for Help:

And when thou wishest to dispense treatment set thy heart toward the Abha Kingdom, entreating Divine confirmations.  (‘Abdul-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 285)

When giving medical treatment turn to the Blessed Beauty then follow the dictates of thy heart . . . Indeed, such a heavenly breath quickeneth every mouldering bone and reviveth the spirit of every sick and ailing one.     (‘Abdul-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 285)

Give God the credit:

Well is it with the physician who cureth ailments in My hallowed and dearly cherished Name.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Lights of Guidance, p. 284)

Diagnose then prescribe:

First diagnose the disease and identify the malady, then prescribe the remedy, for such is the perfect method of the skilful physician.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 269)

Know the spiritual causes as well as the physical:

Say to [Dr.] . . . . that “he studied physical medicine and he cured physical diseases. I beg of God that he may become a spiritual physician and heal the sickness of the ignorant ones.”  (Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v3, p. 507)

Know the patient as well as disease and remedies:

Consequently, the doctor must be aware of, and know, all the members and parts, as well as the constitution and state of the patient, so that he can prescribe a medicine which will be beneficial against the violent poison of the disease. In reality the doctor deduces from the disease itself the treatment which is suited to the patient, for he diagnoses the malady, and afterward prescribes the remedy for the illness. Until the malady be discovered, how can the remedy and treatment be prescribed? The doctor then must have a thorough knowledge of the constitution, members, organs and state  of the patient, and be acquainted with all diseases and all remedies, in order to prescribe a fitting medicine.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 158)

Know the different remedies and medicines:

The skillful physician does not give the same medicine to cure each disease and each malady, but he changes remedies and medicines according to the different necessities of the diseases and constitutions. One person may have a severe illness caused by fever, and the skilled doctor will give him cooling remedies; and when at some other time the condition of this person has changed, and fever is replaced by chills, without doubt the skilled doctor will discard cooling medicine and permit the use of heating drugs. This change and alteration is required by the condition of the patient and is an evident proof of the skill of the physician.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 94)

Treat with foods:

When highly-skilled physicians shall fully examine this matter, thoroughly and perseveringly, it will be clearly seen that the incursion of disease is due to a disturbance in the relative amounts of the body’s component substances, and that treatment consisteth in adjusting these relative amounts, and that this can be apprehended and made possible by means of foods. (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 154-155)

It is certain that in this wonderful new age the development of medical science will lead to the doctors’ healing their patients with foods . . .  Observe how an animal will graze in a field where there are a hundred thousand kinds of herbs and grasses, and how, with its sense of smell, it snuffeth up the odours of the plants, and tasteth them with its sense of taste; then it consumeth whatever herb is pleasurable to these senses, and benefiteth therefrom. Were it not for this power of selectivity, the animals would all be dead in a single day; for there are a great many poisonous plants, and animals know nothing of the pharmacopoeia. And yet, observe what a reliable set of scales they have, by means of which to differentiate the good from the injurious. Whatever constituent of their body hath decreased, they can rehabilitate by seeking out and consuming some plant that hath an abundant store of that diminished element; and thus the equilibrium of their bodily components is re-established, and they are rid of their disease.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 155-156)

At whatever time highly-skilled physicians shall have developed the healing of illnesses by means of foods, and shall make provision for simple foods, and shall prohibit humankind from living as slaves to their lustful appetites, it is certain that the incidence of chronic and diversified illnesses will abate, and the general health of all mankind will be much improved. This is destined to come about. (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 156)

Use spiritual and material forms of healing:

O thou distinguished physician!…Praise be to God that thou hast two powers: one to undertake physical healing and the other spiritual healing. Matters related  to man’s spirit have a great effect on his bodily condition. For instance, thou shouldst impart gladness to thy patient, give him comfort and joy, and bring him to ecstasy and exultation. How often hath it occurred that this hath caused early recovery. Therefore, treat thou the sick with both powers. Spiritual feelings have a surprising effect on healing nervous ailments      (‘Abdul-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 285)

Remedy the sick by means of heavenly joy and spiritual exultation cure the sorely afflicted by imparting to them blissful glad tidings and heal the wounded through His resplendent bestowals. When at the bedside of a patient, cheer and gladden his heart and enrapture his spirit through celestial power. (‘Abdul-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 285)

Circumcision:

The beloved Guardian says that the question of circumcision has nothing to do with the Bahá’í Teachings; and the believers are free to do as they please in the matter.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 289)

Euthanasia, birth control and abortion:

We are impressed by the spirit of your letter of 15 Sultan seeking guidance concerning certain aspects of the medical profession. Your desire to avoid doing anything in your study of medicine which would be contrary to the Bahá’í Teachings is most commendable.  As you have keenly observed, the Universal House of Justice may consider it untimely to make definitive rulings on certain matters to which no direct reference can be found in the Sacred Text. Among these are euthanasia and certain aspects of birth control and abortion, and until such time as rulings are made, these matters are left to the consciences of those concerned who must weigh the medical advice on the case in the light of general guidance given in the Teachings. Your National Spiritual Assembly has specific references regarding birth control and abortion which might be useful to you.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 289)

Organ Transplants:

We have not come across anything specific in the writings on transplants of hearts and other organs or regarding the time of death, and the Universal House of Justice does not wish to make any statements on these points at this time.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 289)

There is nothing in the teachings which would forbid a Bahá’í to bequeath his eyes to another person or for a hospital; on the contrary it seems a noble thing to do.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 290)

Dissection:

When dissecting a human body for the purposes of medical study, should keep in mind that since the body was once the temple of the spirit it must be treated with respect even though there is no further connection between the two.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 290)

Avoid commissions:

The Guardian feels that your attitude towards the corrupt practice of accepting commissions from fellow physicians and pharmacists is most admirable. The more upright and noble the Bahá’ís are in their conduct, the more they will impress the public with the spiritual vitality of the Faith they believe in.  (Shoghi Effendi,, Lights of Guidance, p. 287)

Ethical Conduct:

Knowledge is praiseworthy when it is coupled with ethical conduct and virtuous character; otherwise it is a deadly poison, a frightful danger. A physician of evil character, and who betrayeth his trust, can bring on death, and become the source of numerous infirmities and diseases.  (‘Abdul-Bahá, Scholarship, p. 21)

Bahá’í Holy Days:

He thinks it is better for Bahá’í doctors not to work on our 9 Holy Days — but, of course, that does not mean they should not attend to very sick people and emergencies on these days.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 287)

For more in this series:

Part 1: Intro to Disease

Part 2:  Reasons for Disease

Part 3:  Physical Causes of Disease

Part 4:  Spiritual Causes of Disease

Part 5:  Effects of Disease

Part 6:  Attitudes towards Disease

Part 7:  Spiritual Treatment for Disease

Part 8:  Physical Treatment for Disease

Part 9:  Why People Aren’t Getting Better

Part 10:  Advice to Doctors

Part 11:  Prayers for Health