Vegans of Color

Because we don’t have the luxury of being single-issue

Veganism and choices about non-vegan based medications/prescriptions October 27, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dr. Amie "Breeze" Harper @ 12:15 pm

I remember I was in a bicycle accident a few years ago and needed stitches because the under part of my bike sliced up my leg.  After getting stitched up in the ER, the doctor asked me, “When was the last time you had a tetanus shot?” I told her it had been about 11 or 12 years. She told me that I needed one immediately. After about 5 minutes of her telling me why I should get it (versus me knowing that animal products are used in it), I decided to do it. Though I did make the conscious choice for stitches that were removable (versus the animal based ones that are absorbed into the system), it bothered me about making the conscious choice about getting the tet shot. I wonder if I was really at danger. What would have happened had I not done it? Was the doctor really valid in her concerns? Was I simply giving in to ignorant fear and probably not thinking too clearly because I was still in shock from the bike accident?

The other year, a good friend of mine had emergency root canal surgery. A strict raw foods vegan, he was torn about getting a prescription for a heavy antibiotic in which the caps were not vegan. He and I asked the pharmacist if she could order a vegan capsule for him, but they were not able to find it. Ultimately, he decided to take it, but felt really horrible about it.

How does one negotiate these situations? Many people who practice veganism also rely on medications, prescriptions, etc that were developed using animal ingredients and/or experimented on animals. This is not a judgmental question, just a question I have because I have a lot of people telling me they are 100% vegan in lifestyle, but I am wondering what “100%” really means. Is that possible for many people, when dealing with reliance on prescriptions, medications, surgery, etc? Please share your story or thoughts on this.




42 Responses to “Veganism and choices about non-vegan based medications/prescriptions”

  1. Elaine Vigneault Says:

    I don’t worry much about medicines. I get vaccines when required or recommended. I use some medicines that drastically improve my quality of life. But I avoid gel caps and other animal-derived parts of medicine when possible and practical.

    The major area of my concern are the everyday animal uses like food and clothing. When people stop eating and wearing animals, other animal uses will disappear, too.

  2. Truly Scrumptious Says:

    Tough call. Can you clarify if you would feel differently if we were talking about a human-life-saving drug for a long-term medical condition? Or are you specifically wanting to explore only emergency-type situations here?

    Anyway, personally, I feel that sick or dead vegans are no help to the animals, so giving careful consideration to alternatives if there are any, and then perhaps, sometimes, in certain situations, deciding to use animal-based medicines is the best we can do in the world we have now. Staying alive and healthy to continue the fight to remove animal ingredients and testing is going to do more for sheer # of animal lives.

    We can’t see the alternate universes wherein you did not get the tetanus shot and did/did not get tetanus, so doctors may be our only objective viewpoint in those situations where they *do* get to see the alternate universes where patients didn’t get the shot (ha! almost typed “sh!t”), so we may just have to believe that she was right, the risk was real.

    Not to say we should throw our ethics out the window and take medications at any doc’s whim and fancy. I just think that we cannot know everything, including how real the risk is, and when we’re put in the situation where we have to weigh those things, I do believe that the potential for getting *more* sick and therefore having to take *more* non-vegan medication is worth considering.

  3. Stegan Says:

    The way I think of it is this: you can’t advocate for the animals if you’re dead. And you don’t want to if you’re in constant misery. It’s a trade-off worth making in my estimation.

  4. vegadelic Says:

    Unfortunately, the FDA requires animal testing, so for many of us, there isn’t a practical choice.

    • AoT Says:

      Exactly, every drug you get is tested on animals. The entire medical establishment is based on animal testing. That’s just how it is.

      • Zara Says:

        And this is why I wish I lived in Europe. Animal testing is 100% illegal there.

        • I live in Europe.Unfortunately testing on animals is *not* illegal here. I am also one of the conflicted Vegans who in all other areas of life am vegan but relies on prescription medication which is not Vegan.

  5. Robyn Says:

    I’m just trying veganism for World Go Vegan Week and in two and a half days I have concluded that it is impossible to be 100% vegan. Sure the product isn’t tested on animals, but at some point in the past the ingredients probably were. You can eat the most diligently vegan-produced vegan food available, ignorant of the fact that the trucks that bring it to the supermarkets hit twelve deer, forty-seven rabbits, two crows and a lizard. Every part of the world interacts with every other part, so if animals die, they will touch you somehow.

    Maybe this is just my frustration at getting tripped up all the time on things I didn’t think could be non-vegan.

  6. Serenity Says:

    Everytime you make a stand, there will be something to test the limits of that stance. If I need it, I’ll take it. At the end of the day I rather not develop gangrene and die.

  7. J Says:

    I think we can just do the best we can every day because ultimately all the little things add up. Robyn made the best point by mentioning that even companies that don’t test on animals still use products that once were. Does that make it less vegan? Not in my opinion but how far back are we supposed to go?

    Some people will disagree but that’s how I feel. I’m as vegan as I can be at all times but I still drive a car with rubber tires, and I still eat groceries trucked in by companies that also truck animals, etc. because that is life.

    Being a vegan is not only about the action but also about the motivation. When you took that tetanus shot you did so because not doing so could’ve been worse and I seriuosly doubt you were thinking, “take that you stupid animals who were experimented on!!!” You did what you had to do and it didn’t change who you are or how you feel about animals.

    My husband is a vegan for environmental reasons first and animal/ethics are a distant second. Does that make him less vegan than me? Nope, not in my opnion. He has his reasons and I have mine yet we have the same result in lifestyle eating choices.

  8. Niki Says:

    I think we can only do the best in light of what options we have available.

    Whilst I would love animals not to be involved in medicine, the fact is we very often don’t have a choice here. If there was an animal friendly alternative I would go that way, but when the alternative is being sick or dead I think that decides for you.

  9. seki Says:

    One problem that I always have had with animal rights/veganism is that I have benefited from drugs tested by animals. I am not in a position to question whether an animal died for me to take this medication. The consequences of not taking my medication are much stronger then the “is it vegan or not” question. There are no vegan alternatives for the medication I take. I am against animals being tested but I truly doubt that there is a vegan testing option for all medications. I would luv the vegan community not to be so righteous in this area so that someone who wants to be a vegan, can be welcomed into the community, prescribed medication and all.

    Thanks for opening the floor on this matter.

  10. C Says:

    Veganism has always been about avoiding participation in animal exploitation “as far as is possible and practical” not about being 100% vegan. Vegans currently live in a non-vegan, speciesist world, where it is impossible to be 100%”cruelty free”, and have to survive like everyone else. I say go ahead and take medication in true emergencies or if they are necessary for health, for whatever reason. Like J, everything that I use in my life that I can control is non-animal derived and not tested on animals. To make a living I must use a car with rubber tires and drive on roads made with animal products (not to mention that many roads here were created using slave labor, which I do not condone either). I also have had to take medications that were tested on animals when I had oral surgery several years ago. This does not mean that I condone animal testing in any way, it is simply the way things are currently set up in a speciesist world. This also does not mean that I should drink a glass of organic cow’s milk, or eat honey glazed pig bodies, or purchase Crest toothpaste, or go to a horse race. My point is that a vegan movement has only existed for 60 some years now and there have already been many great strides made in creating alternatives to animal products or practices that involve animal exploitation. Breeze, your post highlights the fact that we, as vegans in a non-vegan world, need to keep our focus on inspiring more folks to go vegan, as far as not using animal products to the best of their ability, as well as constantly looking for alternatives to animal exploitative practices, and then we can worry about, and change, the things that are impossible to avoid at this point in time.

  11. Mo Says:

    My biggest thing about veganism is that I try to prevent suffering as much as I possibly can. When it comes to medicine, I try to get a vegan option. If it is unavailable, I take what is prescribed and make no apologies because it’s out of my hands.

  12. Alicia Says:

    I don’t really worry about this one too much. Like a couple other people have said, you can’t advocate for the animals if your dead. And in truth we do things every single day that involve animals in one way or another such as driving cars. Tires have animal byproducts in them but I don’t see many vegans offering to walk everywhere rather than use a mode of transporation that requires tires.

    I think what is important is that in everything we do we strive to be as vegan as humanely possible. Like Mo said, you ask for a vegan option but if one can’t be found then it is what it is.

  13. Jim Says:

    Keith Mann said he’d have no problem taking medication if he ever needed it, and he’s one of the most radical vegans there are. I agree with what’s been said.
    Of course, gelatin as a casing for vitamins is a totally different matter…I’m sure there are people who still knowingly consume food containing animal products and call themselves vegans, just as there are people who eat fish and call themselves vegetarians.

  14. Robyn Says:

    My mother eats chicken, and calls herself a vegetarian. I think she really does believe it’s not meat, because she gave me holy emotional blackmail Batman to try and get me to eat turkey on Thanksgiving. Also in soup: “it’s only small pieces of meat! you can’t even see it!” Eyeroll.

  15. Naterra Says:

    I agree with everyone here. I am a nurse and am required to get vaccines or not be able to work. I have had surgeries and had to take antibiotics, etc. I also remember having to dissect fetal pigs or flunk high school!
    I believe that it is our intent that matters the most. By doing our part, we are making a difference. We’d kill over if we stressed over topics like this one. Continue to live your life cruelty-free and we will continue to hope and pray that harmful practices fade away in a manner that gives us peace of mind!

  16. Crystal Says:

    What a load of hypocrital garbage! Don’t test on animals, but give me those animal tested drugs if I need them! Somehow it’s not okay to test drugs that can potentially save the lives of others yet it’s okay for you to use drugs tested on animals? You say animal life as just as valuable as human life, yet somehow your life is more valuable than that animal life just because you are a vegan? Do you think that lab rat would have chosen to be a martyr for the cause of your veganism? I doubt it. I think he’d rather you be the martyr yourself.

  17. Niki Says:

    That was a bit harsh Crystal. Vegans generally realise we can’t avoid all animal suffering as our society is built around it. Instead it’s about minimising harm in every way we can. But if it comes down to choosing our own life or an animal’s life, expecting a vegan to sacrifice their life is unfair. Almost every creature would choose their life or their offspring’s over another’s if it came down to a life and death situation. And until there are other options available for us to survive we have little choice, unlike with what we eat and wear where there are plenty of cruelty free options. I can’t really imagine you lead a completely puritannical life so perhaps you should hold back the abuse from others who are at least trying their best, someone who actually HAS thought about whether it’s ok as opposed to millions of others who don’t give a damn.

  18. dany Says:

    I’ve been having similar crises lately, and I’m still processing what they mean/signify in my life vis a vis my veganism and relationship to the label.

    I have recently started working in schools. My life right now frequently follows this pattern: 7 hours with 11th graders, and then 2 hours with 2 month olds. I am still feeling compelled to get a flu shot, in order to avoid infecting little babies with a virus that could have serious consequences. (If they wound up being hospitalized, there would be a lot more that one egg used to incubate the virus on my conscience).
    I have also been getting a lot of colds. I have been taking over the counter cold medicine to treat them. The work that I do is social justice focused and is very important to me. It is just as, if not more important to me in my daily life than my veganism these days. I want to be able to do it, without feeling terrible. I’m feeling guilt around this, but it is what it is. I don’t know that I’m identifying as “vegan” these days, although I am sure that my eating habits will not change.
    A trend that I see amongst single-issue vegans is an unwillingness to accommodate for multiple passions. There are a plethora of forms of oppression, and we need people fighting on all fronts. Now, I realize that I make decisions that aren’t consistently vegan-friendly these days, but on the same front, how many of you single-issue folks buy polyester blends that are sewn together in sweatshops? We need to figure out a way to help one another grow and create a world that is not filled with moral crisis at every turn. How we do that, I’m not sure…. any advice?

  19. C Says:


    I would recommend looking over non-mainstream sources of info regarding vaccines in general and flu vaccines in particular. They might actually put you at greater risk of getting the flu or they might harm you in myriad other ways.
    I know of many folks who are being “guilted” into taking a flu vaccine for the “safety” of other people they work with. Personally, I think it’s B.S. and if I know Big Pharma, they are using brutal fear tactics to sell their product, or even possibly push a more nefarious agenda.
    Gary Null has some good info on his site, including natural ways to protect yourself against the flu:

    • C Says:

      “We need to figure out a way to help one another grow and create a world that is not filled with moral crisis at every turn. How we do that, I’m not sure…. any advice?”
      Again, I think we need to inspire as many people as we can to apply the principle of non exploitation, veganism, to their daily lives. Many single issue vegans, fighting only “for the animals”, misunderstand the nature of veganism, which has always sought to create a just, equitable world for humans, other animals, and the Earth. Veganism has always considered the plight of humans as well as the plight of other animals, and if there was a larger vegan movement (a real one!) who know’s what kind of advancements could be made? Unfortunately the big animal advocacy corporations constantly marginalize veganism… Still, with trade policies set up the way they are today, I don’t think one should just wear animal fibers because the vast majority of clothes are made in sweatshops, or other questionable conditions. We should be encouraged to find non-sweatshop goods, or just make our own, if we have access to that stuff. Also it is my opinion that we shouldn’t over consume regardless of what we buy. Most importantly we should consider a larger anti-oppression, or at very least anti-capitalist, analysis to our advocacy for other animals. David Nibert’s book, Animal Rights, Human Rights Entanglements of Oppression and Liberation, is a great place to start.
      We need to change people’s minds about their relationships with “others”. Nothing will ever change until we reject the exploitation of “others”, especially vulnerable “others”, and inspire more folks to do the same.

  20. Samantha Says:

    I am a Vegan and also an Epileptic. Now, do I not take my medication because it was tested on animals or do I risk having seizures and doing serious physical harm to myself. Several times I’ve had seizures while crossing the street and I was almost run over by cars.

    So for me, it’s very clear. As unfortunate as it is that all medicines contain animal products, I’m not going to risk my own death so that my conscience can feel good knowing that I did not support an animal-based medicine. My friend, Ryan who was my inspiration for becoming a Vegan said it best, that we do what we can do to the fullest extent, but we must use common sense and perspective. And that is the attitude I take on this matter…Be well, everyone…

  21. History Punk Says:

    This is a simple question- use the medication. Animal testing is essentially painless, allows animals a vastly superior existence, and reduces suffering. Without animal testing, many tens of millions would be dead, maimed, or otherwise injuried while tens of million more would fated for a horrific injury or death in the future.

    As for vaccine safety, vaccines are one of the most useful, effective, and cheapest public health measures devised. My aunt got polio as a child. Medical care for her cost around 50,000 a year. The cost grew each year as she aged. I was vaccinated for $50 total. Many drug companies have gotten out the vaccine business because profits are too to justify investment.

    • C Says:

      There has never been a long term double blind study of any vaccine to prove it’s safety and efficacy. History Punk, how do you come to the conclusion that they are the “most useful, effective, and cheapest public health measures devised” (even more so than public sanitation? Really?) if there is no proof of that whatsoever? Of course vaccine manufacturers make profits. You really think Big Pharma is scaring the population into taking their *products* because they are concerned about human health over their profit margin? You might, that’s fine. I’m certainly not that naive.
      As for polio, I’m afraid that the public was not told the truth about the whole ordeal, just like many other vaccine “successes”. Polio merely continues to serve as a “poster child” of vaccination “success” so folks will continue to trust vaccines. You’ll need to look beyond mainstream sources to get an unbiased (meaning someone not profiting from our ignorance) view on it. I’ve already provided the link to Gary Null’s site. Here’s just a few more.

      • C Says:

        And animal testing is “essentially painless, allows animals a vastly superior existence, and reduces suffering”? Really?? You realize you are on a vegan blog where folks are quite aware of the horrors of animal testing, right?
        Millions would be “dead, maimed, or otherwise injuried while tens of million more would fated for a horrific injury or death in the future without animal testing”? Where is your proof?
        You are completely ignoring all the serious injuries and deaths every single year caused by drugs and procedures that were tested on animals. Read your history, History Punk.

        • I would like to suggest to people that a lot of people come to this site to actually incite people to become pissed off. So, I’d recommend not to get too involved with responding to people that are clearly here to incite us.

  22. Joe Lynch Says:

    This has been ringing in my esars for a while. You know film has gelatine in? Bah.

  23. Truly Scrumptious Says:

    Wow, History Punk, that is some questionable information you have, there, about animal testing. I really wonder where you got that info.

    It’s pretty well accepted and documented and admitted by researchers that animals suffer greatly during animal testing, and is far – far – from a “vastly superior” existence.

    We may be saving *human* lives with animal testing (and some would argue we are not), but no one really argues that we are saving *animal* lives. Researchers are just stalling their death and torturing them all the while.

  24. jo jimbo bloggs Says:

    My opinion is that i accept my fate. I feel strong so most ilnesses i try to let my body cure, just stepped on a rusty nail after 22 yrs with no shots, ouch it went deep! I’m not going to bother with a shot, i’ll let u know if i die 🙂 So many people are scared when it comes to health, the whole hype pushes up the costs of living and makes our lives even more un-natural.
    If you have not heard about it yet, many diseases can be cured or tamed with ozone treatment. Ozone therapy is incredibly diverse so if you have some time look into it.
    I know u all think i’m stupid, but if so many people regard themselves as so clever then why is it that we are destroying the future of the world which was once covered by wildlife? Also think about the people of the future. What will happen in ten thousand yrs if we continue like this! In my opinion we need a different way of lifestyle today! FAST or watch the world become a nastier place, which do you want? nastier place or sweetness?

  25. jo jimbo bloggs Says:

    ps. ys i’m vegan. Go Vegan, bring on the goodies!!

  26. anon Says:

    So glad I found this I recently had a baby and required an emg section, as you can imagine this is quite painful I tried to hero it out but in the first 3 days I took 4 lots of painrelief. I am against this and hadn’t taken any for years but trying to look after a new born after surgery is tough when just getting in and out of bed is agony. This along with the drugs used during surgery was making me feel very guilty, so glad to see others have had to make the decision and found it equally as difficult.

  27. Rickie Luke Says:

    I googled “Vegans and Meds” and came to this site. After only a few months of being a Vegan, but 4 years on a med that literally keeps me alive, I realized that it is made with porcine intestinal mucosa (no alternative med is presently available). At first I felt very sick-to-my-stomach and guilty. I told my wife that I should rethink taking this med. Her reply was, with tears in her eyes “I want you to live, please don’t stop taking it”. She has been the love of my life for 37 years and her concerns, and tears, matter very much to me. Therefore, I have to admit I am not 100% Vegan, but more like 99.99%. I know that .01% matters to some, but if I am alive and advocating the Vegan health benefits for humans and the humane rights of our brother animals, I prefer taking my med and living a long life. I am no good to anyone if I am not here on this earth with my loved ones. I hope I don’t offend anyone with my beliefs.

    • Cloud Says:


      It’s the classic idea of which bears more impact. Being miffed that the printed photo contains animal ingredients or the impact the photo of the slaughter house brings. I personally do not believe that veganism basis is for mental heartache when it comes to eating. Being vegan 7 years myself. We know that animal products are not needed in a healthy human diet. It just happens that in your case they haven’t bothered to create a better option for you. Keep the medication and thrive and the vegan diet! 🙂

      – Cloud

      • Anonymous Says:

        Cloud – Thank you so very much. Your words are very kind and knowledgeable. Keep up the good work. Rickie

  28. SB_Australia Says:

    I guess it depends on what sort of vegan you are. If you’re just an everyday going about your business not being a douchebag vegan then I would say its sensible to take the medication that improves the quality of your life.

    If you’re a douchebag vegan who takes any & every opportunity to try to cram your veganism down the throats of the rest of us in order to feel superior then no, you shouldn’t take the medication.

    Also, if your veganism is the reason for needing the medication (needing suppliments to fill the gap animal products have left) then that’s douchebaggery of epic proportions!!!!!!!!

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