Friday, July 12, 2013

Animal Death

Sydney University Press
Animal Death, Sydney University Press, 2013
Its a confronting title for a confronting topic. On Monday, Sydney University Press launched Animal Death, a collection of papers presented at the Human Animal Research Network symposium of the same name last year.

Jacqui Shilson-Josling, who blogged about the book here, wrote that despite our seemingly overarching interaction with animals, 
"...we take little time to reflect on animal death and its meaning for us and non-human animals."
I think that's partly because, like many unpleasant things, we tend not to want to think about animal death head-on. Its a bit of a heavy subject, anyone who has lost a companion animal remembers vividly that feeling of despair (myself included). But when you're working with animals, especially unwell animals, death is a subject worth ruminating about.

I contributed an essay about euthanasia and morally justifiable killing in a veterinary clinical context - arguing that not all veterinary-effected deaths fit the bill for "euthanasia" and that careless use of the term can be ultimately harmful to animals in influencing the way we decide their fate. This project gave me the opportunity to look a bit deeper at the ethics of euthanasia, particularly what we mean by the word. I wrote:
If the life of your companion animal is ended by a veterinarian, it is likely that service will be invoiced under the category ‘euthanasia’ regardless of the reason. That is unproblematic if we accept the American  Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) definition of euthanasia, as defined in its Guidelines on euthanasia, as a death ‘that occurs with minimal pain and distress. In the context of these guidelines, euthanasia is the act of inducing humane death in an animal’ (AVMA 2007). But what this definition fails to explain is that not all humane deaths are equal. It may be possible to induce a painless, rapid death in a healthy person by administering a toxin without that person’s knowledge – but we call that murder, not euthanasia. The above use of the term fails to capture the morally significant difference between the killing of an animal to prevent present suffering, killing of an animal to prevent inevitable or at least likely future suffering, and the killing of a perfectly healthy animal
because it is unwanted (by a particular owner or society at large).

The essay examines what those differences are and why it is important for us to identify and understand our reasoning in each case.

Animal Death is available at Sydney University Press here. On another slightly unrelated note, I couldn't help but notice a beautiful black poodle turned up to the book launch at the Life in the Anthropocene conference this week. She was absolutely delightful! It made me wish that public spaces like universities were more animal accessible.