The Ethics of Euthanasia
by Sybil Erden, Director, The Oasis Sanctuary
"Euthanasia" "easy death"
There has been much discussion of late among aviculturists, animal activists, bird owner/caregivers, and veterinarians, regarding the use of devoicing, beak multilization and pinioning as a method of "resolving problems" with companion and captive breeder birds.
The rationale all too often is that the alternative to these barbaric and non-reversible procedures is the euthanasia of the "problem" bird. It becomes apparent that until "owners" become "caregivers" and Psittacines (parrot-type birds) are recognized as sentient, self-aware, feeling beings, until euthanasia is recognized as only allowable when death is already imminent and/or to prevent suffering, the underlying problem will continue. The true problem is that we humans still see animal companions as our possessions, to be cared for and disposed of as we, in some godlike fashion, see fit.
Imagine if you will the ethical dilemma a caring veterinarian faces under this all too possible scenario: Person comes into vet's office with longtime avian companion. Due to change in circumstance (i.e. move to smaller housing, new significant other or baby) this once beloved bird's talking and squawking are now perceived as impossible "noise." This person firmly believes that options have been exhausted. They further believe that they truly love the bird and that no one else could possibly care for it as well as they do. They feel cornered and say that the animal must be euthanized.
Although many ethical veterinarians will not euthanize healthy animals, most recognize that other members of their profession will. Even if the vet says that they will not kill the bird, they justly must fear for the life of the animal if it leaves their doors. The doctor may suggest moving if that is appropriate, or behavioral modification for the bird and or family. Finally the vet may suggest placing the bird in a new home, adoption program or sanctuary. But if the person has decided that euthanasia is what they wish, currently there are no ethical or legal considerations in place to stop this unnecessary and most final of all options. So many veterinarians who would otherwise not want to see such a procedure done, may, to "save the life" of the bird, suggest devoicing.
Only by removing the option of euthanasia from the bird's caregiver can we ensure that these otherwise unthinkable practices can more easily be addressed.
The only ethical reason for the termination of life in a companion animal is the animal's suffering not the owners. If a bird has a terminal illness with no ready options, and it is in pain, euthanasia is appropriate. If a bird has a contagious and terminal illness for which there is no cure and/or inoculation, and which may infect an entire flock, euthanasia is arguably a choice. But for plucking, for "screaming," even for aggressive behavior, death for the animal must cease to be an option.
Currently 75 per cent of all kittens and puppies born in a given year face the cessation of their lives at a pound or humane society for lack of home sometime during their relatively short (15 year) life expectancy. (Ken White, Exec. Director, Arizona Humane Society)
Likewise 6 per cent of all cats and dogs currently residing in homes will be given up to a humane shelter and destroyed this and every year. (Humane Society of the United States and others)
While it is acknowledged that not very many companion birds are currently finding their way into the usual shelter system, more are being seen annually. Additionally, it is a known but under-reported fact that many "unproductive" breeder parrots, as well as "imperfect" birds, are regularly euthanized or out and out killed by breeders unwilling to feed and care for animals not making money for them.
Is this what we want for companion birds?
Until self-aware, communicative, feeling creatures are afforded the protection of our society that we provide to the least of our human flock, the birds we love will remain in danger of torture, mutilation and unnecessary and early death. Birds must be removed from the level of simple possession, like a chair or car, and raised to a status whereby their lives are recognized as having independent value. We have been spending years discussing the "right to die" of humans who wish to end their own suffering, and yet we carelessly toss away the God-given lives of other beings entrusted to us.
Euthanasia means "easy death". While it should be used to humanely end suffering of our beloved companions, it should stop being "easy" for us.
Copyright © 2001 Sybil Erden, The Oasis Sanctuary.
All material Copyright © 2002–2010 Avian Welfare Coalition, unless otherwise noted. Contact us to request reprint permission.
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