10 March 2004


Euthanasia is a good, easy, or gentle death. (The word derives from the Greek words "eu," good, and "thanos," death.) The central case of euthanasia involves a person who is terminally ill, in great pain, and desirous of dying. Hastening the person's death is a release from misery. The motive of the person doing the euthanizing is benevolence. We say that we're doing it for your own good—because we love you. A synonym for "euthanasia" is "mercy killing."

Suppose we find a healthy, happy orphan. If we put him or her to death because (1) no individual is willing to provide the necessary care and (2) society is unwilling to allocate the resources for such care, is it euthanasia? Clearly not—even if the death itself is quick and painless. The orphan, by hypothesis, is healthy and happy and will, with adequate care, live a long life.

So why do we call it euthanasia when healthy, happy dogs and cats are put to death? We're not doing it for their benefit. We're not doing it because the only alternative to death is a life of unmitigated misery. We're doing it because we—individually and collectively—are unwilling to pay for the care they need.

Why do we call it euthanasia when it's not? I think it's because we're hiding the ugly reality from ourselves. We don't like to think that we're killing healthy, happy animals simply because we'd rather use the resources for other purposes, such as entertainment and fashionable clothing. The word "euthanasia" assures us that we're doing it for the sake of the animals.

I'm not arguing, here, for increased funding, although I believe it's scandalous that an affluent nation such as ours doesn't provide for its feline and canine companions. I'm arguing for honesty. If we're unwilling to provide for dogs and cats, let's say so. Let's stop implying, by our terminology, that we have no choice. We do. We're making a bad choice.

No comments: