Mercy Killings, or Between Suffering and Exploitation

I’ve neglected this blog for a little bit (I was working on and researching for other writing projects). Anyway:

Is there such thing as a mercy killing? There, after all, we collectively find it alright to impose a Kevorkian salvation for our companion animals, even if many of us are not alright with the same tactics applied to our fellow human animals.

The focus is on allowing the animals to escape from  suffering–there is little talk of exploitation or anti-speciesism when a cat or dog is terminally, or just painfully, ill. The focus is diverted from the collective animal to the specific.

For all animals the euphemism is “putting down.” But only for companion animals, the one’s closest to us, do we call it “putting to sleep.” Sleep conjures up images of restfulness, and we are assured that this is so–that the procedure is painless. Whether it is painless for the companion animal, is unimportant, the important fact is that the human’s pain is minimized.

Unlike a Kevorkian assisted-suicide the mercy killing of animals is largely non-consensual. Despite how much physical pain the animal is in, the decision to “put it down” is largely motivated by the sympathies of the human companion. It is the psychic pain of the human, that motivates the painless killing of the animal.

We “put to sleep” not because the animal is in pain, but because we are in pain. Our sympathies cause us to enact just a bit of exploitation, the tiniest bit of speciesism, in order to alleviate the largely physical pain of the animal and the psychic pain of the human.

It is at the moment of decision, what is likely to be the last decision between this human and this animal, that the human reifies his or her position as owner, and not as companion.

The reason Kevorkian salvation for humans is frowned upon is because humans are supposed to have the will to live. I am to live through any suffering, because I am to have the sheer force of will to continue to fight, to have hope.

We do not give non-humans this will, partially because we like to imagine that they live in the present. How often do we deny their pasts (putting “scientifically” determined limits on their memories). How often do we deny their futures: we portray the animal as being without the imagined foresight of humanity, unable to plan for tomorrow. A mercy killing of a pet is simply the physical followup to a metaphysical denial that already occurred.




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3 Responses to Mercy Killings, or Between Suffering and Exploitation

  1. No One says:

    “We “put to sleep” not because the animal is in pain, but because we are in pain. ”

    Exactly. That is why the term Animal Rights is so hilariously funny. Rights, justice and related stuff being ultime human behaviour. I the basic part of a right would be that at least hypothetically the holder of the right can claim it.

    The other way around to look at this is that you own your pet, which comes with the specific responsibility to prevent it from suffering, as far as you reasonably can. The owner not only should put the choking cat out of his misery because of his own plight, he simply has the duty to do so.

  2. Carina says:

    I think I might have misunderstood the point of this article. Are you saying that if your dog is suffering from an illness that renders him blind and unable to walk and will cause a painful death in the next couple of days it is the better choice to let things happen naturally? It is our fault that we put them in this unnatural situation since out in the wild a sick animal would probably not have to long periods of suffering that we put them through by keeping them alive at all costs.

    “We “put to sleep” not because the animal is in pain, but because we are in pain.”

    As I see things, euthanizing an animal is by far the most painful part of having a pet. But I was brought up to believe that not letting your beloved pets suffer and die a slow and painful death is something that we owe them, no matter how hard it may be for us to let them go. For me, letting an animal suffer and letting it die slowly would be the easier thing to do because there is no decision that needs to be made and I would not have to live with the thought of having to kill my pet. It would be the easier but also the more selfish choice.

    I do however also believe that euthanasia for humans should be legal. If someone feels there is nothing more in this world than pain and waiting for a certain death then it should be his choice to end his life.

    • Royce says:

      Sorry to take so long to reply:

      I’m only pointing out that killing an animal so that it does not need to suffer is reifying the position of human as owner, and the animal as property.

      The naturalness of the situation is irrelevant, though I think the domestic and the wild are equally “natural” (and of course equally “unnatural”).

      I’d argue that not putting the animal to sleep, and letting the animal die slowly is also a choice. To think that it requires not making a decision ignores that the conscious lack of action is also an action. That not doing something is just as painful as doing something. You think it is the easier choice, but you would never do it.

      I agree everyone should have the choice to kill themselves if they so desire–but your dog never has that choice.

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