By David Cassuto
Nadaya Suleman, the (now) self-described `Octomom´ has a sign on her lawn urging us to heed her example and “Don’t Let Your Dog or Cat Become an Octomom. Always Spay or Neuter.” Suleman, who had octuplets 16 months ago (in addition to her other 6 children) and has been struggling to make ends meet, placed the sign on her lawn at the behest of PETA and in exchange for $5000. She maintains that she is not doing it just for the money and that she loves animals and believes that they should be spayed and neutered. ”Humans of course are much different,” she notes. PETA claims the arrangement is a `win-win.´
I wonder who´s winning. Is is it Suleman, who urges people not to let their companion animals be like her? Is it reality tv, for which Suleman is now bound? Is it the people who then compare their pets to Suleman? Is it the animals who might therefore end up spayed? Is it society who benefits from people spaying their animals so they don´t end up like Suleman? To my eyes, this comparison manages to simultaneously demean both Suleman and the nonhuman animals to whom she compares herself . She holds herself up as a type of undisciplined, thoughtless breeder to which spayed animals compare favorably. Yet she also says that humans are different.
Different how? Different in that it´s ok for humans to reproduce irresponsibly? Different in that human reproduction should not be characterized as irresponsible? Different in that discussions of human reproduction (and Suleman in particular) come laden with all kinds of unfortunate gender, class and race politics? And finally, different in that it is morally sound (and/or even right) to remove the reproductive organs of animals whereas doing the same to a human would violate all kinds of norms?
I have pondered before the ethical basis for sterilizing nonhumans even as I recognize the practical necessities involved. I continue to worry, however, that practical necessity is a fragile reed on which to base a policy with serious moral implications. Therefore, when I see the sterilization discussion being carelessly broadened in a way that encourages people to a) ignore the ethics of such actions at the nonhuman level; and b) treat human reproduction with the same broad strokes, it makes me think less about our responsibilities to companion animals and more about eugenics.
In short, Suleman and PETA´s arrangement seems less of a `win-win´ than a mirror on the myriad ways our society can´t seem to win for losing.