Professor Gary Steiner alerted
me to an interesting video from the Onion
News Network. It involves a “news” story about a young gymnast who is
“euthanized” by her parents after she suffers a minor, but career-affecting,
By applying the language that we hear when injured race horses are “put down”
in a context involving a human, we get an interesting insight into how even
those who claim to “love” animals often commodify them and regard them
exclusively as means to our ends.
We also hear expressed the idea that the problem is suffering and that as
long as the actual infliction of death is without pain, no separate moral
question is raised. That is, the act of killing does not, in itself, result in
harm. We easily see the problem in applying this in the human context. Even if
you killed a human painlessly and did while she slept and was unaware that her
death was imminent, you would still have harmed that person. Sure, you would
have harmed her more if you tortured her first and then killed her. But you do
harm her just by killing her without any pain or suffering.
When it comes to animals, most of us fail to see this point. We think that
the problem is suffering–not death. We think that it is acceptable for us to use
animals as long as we treat them “humanely.” That is the whole premise of the
animal welfare approach: it is morally acceptable for humans to use animals as
long as we minimize the suffering involved. This idea is promoted by many animal
advocates and I have written about it before on this blog (see this essay for example) and in
my other writings (it is a central theme of Animals as Persons). It is
precisely this notion that leads animal advocates to support campaigns to
promote “cage-free” eggs rather than spending their time and resources on
educating people about why they should not eat eggs at all. Campaigns for
welfare reform make sense only if the use of animals is morally
acceptable and the issue is only how we treat the animal we use. Many
welfarists are explicit in claiming that killing animals–if done painlessly–does
not raise a moral issue. As the Onion video demonstrates, we would regard that
as absurd in the human context.
It is only our specieism that makes us unable to see that it is equally
absurd in the animal context.