From Barry Kent MacKay
Subject: Re: Death is better than suffering
I agree that this is a very good question...and i think the answer is very
Humans, for example, will choose extreme hardship over death in most every
Barry: Anyone can say anything if they ignore the facts. Suicide is, in fact, a
major cause of death among young, even physically healthy, humans,
particularly in certain cultures, and often in response to what I think most
of us would call less than "extreme" hardship.
Prisoners, particularly those in solitary confinement, are often deprived as
much as possible of the means to take their own lives because of the strong
desire so many have to do so; and many must be put on what is called
"suicide watch". Elderly men who live alone are very much given to suicide,
according to current statistics.
So the basic premise is untrue, but I think to some degree also irrelevant.
I do believe in keeping open the option of euthanasia for individuals of all
animal species even while recognizing that only one, the human, can
communicate whether he or she as an individual agrees.
But to me euthanasia means providing a "humane" death to end great suffering
that will not otherwise end.
There are solid legalistic reasons why society is reluctant to legalize such
euthanasia, but a form of it is practiced in every hospital on earth, when
human patients are terminal, and suffering, and given drugs that rob them of
the ability to suffer, but also the ability to think, and, in fact, the
ability to live. They don't kill the patient outright so much as hasten the
process of dying.
I think any other definition of euthanasia, than that of ending a life in
torment where death is the only cure for that torment, is bogus, and I
regret that it is often misapplied.
I think what you are talking about is the capacity to survive. The people
and animals who will endure great hardships do so, I believe, in the
expectation of survival and recovery at the end of it. With humans,
certainly, and intelligent other species, most likely, in my opinion, it is
when there is no such hope...when suffering is significant and will only end
with death, that death, or euthanasia, is likely to be considered the more
desirable option. I'd rather be shot to death than tortured to death, but
I'd rather be tortured than killed if I knew that the torture would end, and
that I would more or less survive the experience. I think most folks would.
Take a look at the starvation and disease that occurs in many countries.
Death (suicide) is always an option, yet is avoided at all cost, for
Barry: The reasons are the ones I just gave, Dave. When you are starving, there IS
a cure. It is called food. Since food CAN come at any time, the fact that
you are starving does not preclude hope that before you die, you will be
cured, thus euthanasia is not an option.
Same with disease. There are often cures that may arrive in time. I've
known terminal cancer patients who, to the end, hold out for some last
second miracle cure, or the kind of miraculous reversal that sometimes
happens. Usually it does not, but there is always the hope.
When there isn't, I think death can be "better than suffering".
If "death is better than suffering", why don't Human Rights organizations
suggest bombing African villages where suffering is occurring?
Barry: See above. In fact, as a generality most of "us" do turn our backs on
"African villages where suffering is occurring", thus guaranteeing deaths
that are otherwise avoidable. Thus we can practice euthanasia without
taking the responsibility that would come if we simply bombed or shot such
people. But of course the cost of bombing them or shooting them would
almost certainly be greater than the cost of feeding them and medicating
them, so if relieving them of their suffering is the purpose, obviously even
on a coldly economic bases, humanitarian aid is the way to go.
But, and it is a big but, there is no need to bomb and shoot IF we provide
that aid; to the degree that we can, and fail to do so, surely we are as
complicit in their deaths as if we fed them cyanide, just much further
removed, thus able to pretend a lack of responsibility for them. And since
we hypocritically argue that economics are not a factor in who lives or
dies, we "should" provide the aid anyway, although all of us can think of
reasons why we have not done so. But let's not then say we are not tacitly
abiding the deaths of those savable people.
The same is true with non-humans. There are countless stories of other
animals enduring incredible (and terrible) hardships to live, and fighting
to stay alive.
Barry: And countless stories...in fact it is the norm...of mortally injured animals
crawling away to die. Non human animals don't have access to sleeping
pills, gas ovens or loaded guns...probably don't have a well defined sense
of life and death (I'm not sure human animals do, either). Of course they
will fight when there is hope, but not when there isn't.
I believe if we (the Animal Rights community) were to accept this
then it would make the lives of animal exploiters very easy...after all:
"Death is better than Suffering".
Barry: Yes, that's exactly how religious dogmatists work. They, like you, set up a
series of premises that are of questionable validity, at best, and then
extrapolate from them. That's the problem I have with this absolutist
Welfarists will have a different story....but they're coming from a flawed
perspective in the first place. ;)
You're living in a glass house, my friend.
And speaking of your house, how many rescued animals live with you? 1? 12?
The reason I ask is this: while the focus has been on dogs and cats (and
I've been seething over that, but I'll leave that for another discussion),
the fact is that there are huge numbers of both wild and domestic, companion
and livestock, species for which loving homes are required, so that they
don't have to be "put down".
If you want the perfect no-kill shelter, it is best to focus on a species
that relatively rarely is kept by humans. Other species still die in the
same, or far greater, numbers, of course (look at the recently reported
ocean dead-zones... billions of animals lost and few seem to care) but it is
the familiar species, and the ones we, ourselves, most directly influence,
that tend to get most of the attention (and especially dogs and cats). So
if I were rich, and decided to create a no-kill haven for
rescued...oh...domesticated corn snakes...I could quite possibly have a no
kill shelter and provide a humane life for each animal.
But were I to choose to care for pigeons that can't be released either
because they are domestic breeds that can't hack it in the wild, or because
of injuries, I'd soon be overwhelmed. Same with crows, robins, squirrels,
sparrows and starlings, rats and mice and raccoons.
Think dogs. If there is a dog to be put down in your local shelter, why not
adopt it? And the next, and the next? Most of us do have as many rescued
companion animals as we can care for adequately...perhaps a bit more...and
yet we know that we could save just one more, just one more. But we also
realize that the care and love we can give becomes compromised past a
certain point. We know about "collectors" whose animals live (and die) in
squalor. And we know that the attention required can take us away from
other animal work, like, for example, trying to shut the tap off in the
first place through time consuming political action.
So whether we talk of pigeons or pooches, we allow the "euthanasia" to occur
by default. That's fine, but I don't think it gives us much of a moral
platform from which to lecture the "welfarists".
Dave: My inflated two cents...and i'll admit it was very hard not throwing
explitives or personal insults into this. What a horrible, ill-thought
Barry: It's worth the effort. We are all on the same side, you know. Now I better
review what I just wrote and take out all the expletives and at least some
of the personal insults.
PS...In the part where I asked you how many animals you lived with, I had
written "no fair counting head lice" but in my review of what I had written
I took that out because while I meant it as a harmless joke, I feared it
could be construed as a "personal insult". Just so you know...
Now I have asked this list, and you in particular, if you had a child,
or someone else's, and could not care for it (he/she is not used here
either), would you turn that child over to be killed. You didn't answer
that question. The foundation for the question is to establish the
difference between the treatment of humans and nonhuman animals in this
society." That is a discussion worth having.
Barry: In all fairness, I think your question is flawed. We're all agreed, I trust
(not having read everything...where are you folks finding the time???) that
a young healthy animal ought not to be euthanized, and at any rate,
"euthanasia" is a misuse of the word (at least in my opinion) under those
But if a human child were dying and in pain, in situations where the kind of
vast infrastructure that exists to try to prevent that, was not available,
then at least the question begins to become comparable. It still isn't,
since there is the length of life lost, and the presence of back up
institutions. A terminally ill human child, in great pain, still has
options not open to every... most... animals... or indeed to many human
children, who, while not outright euthanized, are allowed to die by those
who, but for lack of intervention (that results from the way they prioritize
spending their disposable income or the degree they support taxation for
social causes), die anyway, often very slowly.
I don't suggest they be euthanized, any more than I would kill starving
animals, because there is a more humane option...there is hope. Euthanasia
when there is no hope is another matter, although psychological barriers
make it harder relative to humans than animals for most people (not for
me...I've mourned more deeply more animals than the humans I've lost with
but a single exception.)
I've told before the story of my grandfather, who, as an old fashioned
country doctor, often delivered babies in his office...this during the
depression. And when an infant was born with most of the brain missing, he
simply told the mom that it was stillborn...which was not the case. She was
a farm wife with more kids than she could properly feed and clothe, and
since the infant wouldn't last to maturity anyway, my grandfather killed it.
Whether this was "right" or "wrong", if you talk to enough doctors you find
it's not so rare even now, in the 21st century with far more options open,
Of course we treat humans and non humans differently, and we treat humans
differently within our own species, and for quite understandable reasons
(as Priscilla has noted, there's the whole issue of war that could be
discussed, where such differences become stark).
That does not mean that we "should" with regard any given particular, and I
agree that it is valid to always ask tough questions, but yours is an apples
and oranges question. If there were homeless shelters, medical aid and soup
kitchens for dogs, cats, pigeons, starlings and the like, things would be
more comparable to what there is for humans, at least in western society.
So would they be more comparable if we forced sickly, impoverished, or
starving people, or for that matter quite healthy people, to be spayed and
neutered, as we do dogs and cats...while proclaiming to respect their
"rights". After all, if you can't breed, you can't produce something that
will suffer, and isn't that what spay/neuter does...sort of euthanasia
before the fact. (And no, I'm not "pro-life", I'm just wondering at the