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.