Sunday, November 04, 2018

If it's good to euthanize a dog, why not humans?

One argument for euthanasia goes like this: why euthanize dogs but not humans? Why is it good to put a dog out of its misery but not a human being?

That's an a fortiori argument: If it's good to be merciful in the lesser case of suffering dogs, is it not good (or better) to be merciful in the greater case of suffering humans?

1. From a Christian standpoint, one reason is that killing a dog isn't murder whereas killing a human being is murder absent overriding considerations. 

Of course, that pushes the question back a step. Are there overriding considerations that sometimes warrant euthanasia? The immediate point, though, is that there's a prima facie presumption against taking human life that's disanalogous to the case of dogs. Take Asian cultures where dogs are a food stuff. 

2. Not all candidates for euthanasia are suffering. Proponents of euthanasia extend mercy-killing to an ever-wider range of individuals who are said to lack the relevant quality of life.

3. Some deontologists are absolutists about suicide and euthanasia. I'm not. I think there are extreme cases in which that may be permissible. But you can't extrapolate from extreme cases to other cases where the same overriding considerations are absent.

4. Caring for people in extremis is good for both the patient and the caregiver. Take a grown child who cares for a bedridden parent who's becoming senile. 

Ideally, that forces the child to prioritize. Be less self-absorbed and focus on the needs of someone else. It requires the child to tap into all their inner resources to meet the challenge as best they can. That's good for character. Good for sanctification. Develop greater patience, sympathy, and sensitivity. 

It's good when things come full circle. The parent who cared for dependent children is now dependent on grown children to care for them. The quality of life includes a moral quality of life. It's easy to be kind when it's easy. The acid test is when it's hard.

Conversely, many patients are acutely sensitive to whether people still care about them now that they can't help out or help themselves. Now that everything must be done for them. That's a test of whether they were ever really loved in the first place. Did people only love them when it was convenient? That's pretty shallow. 

Psychologically, humans live in the past, present, and future. Memory and anticipation as well as present awareness. Animals lack that viewpoint. They live in the moment.  

Of course, humans can suffer from cognitive impairment, sometimes severe. But we can't get inside their minds to know how much they register. What's the effect of holding their hand or stroking their hair? 

1 comment:

  1. 1. I suppose it's ultimately a battle of worldviews:

    From an atheistic and evolutionary perspective, humans are a higher kind of an animal than a dog, but humans are still fundamentally speaking an animal like a dog. Hence the analogy between dogs and humans is closely knit. We may range along a spectrum but we're still part of the same spectrum. We share common ancestry. Common descent, not common design. All life on Earth originated from the same source. The tree of life and all that.

    From a Christian perspective, however, humans are made in the image of God. Dogs are not. There's something special about humans that's not the case with dogs. We're not in the same category as dogs are. As such, these kinds of analogies between humans and dogs fall apart at crucial points.

    Related, humans have a mandate to "rule" over creation. We're like viceroys of the King. (Interestingly, God commands humans to be fruitful and multiply, which, if I'm not mistaken, God only applies to aquatic creatures as well as birds, but not land animals.)

    2. From an atheistic perspective, is ending the life of a miserable dog better or worse than letting the miserable dog continue living?

    Maybe it depends on the dog. Some dogs might prefer to continue living miserable lives rather than being dead. However, dogs can't communicate to humans and tell us whether they'd prefer to live in misery or die to end their misery.

    In addition, it's not as if humans can experience what a miserable dog experiences to know a dog's misery and pain. Perhaps dogs, like many other animals, have a far higher pain threshhold than humans do. Perhaps what appears to be misery to us isn't so miserable to dogs.

    Plus, absent humans, before humans arrived in history, would anyone euthanize a wild dog or horse with a broken leg? Wouldn't it just be left to die in nature? Picked off by predators?

    Not to mention one can't walk back death according to atheism. Once something is dead, it's forever dead.

    As such, given atheism, shouldn't we err on the side of life, even for dogs?

    3. When we euthanize a dog, we're using our best judgment to discern what's best for the dog. That might be ethically fine to do if we have good judgment as to what's best for the dog. However, from a atheistic perspective, there's no objective good or bad, right or wrong. How does anyone agree what's best for the dog?

    In fact, Peter Singer believes it's ethically licit to rescue a pet dog over one's infant child from a burning house if one can only save one of them. So, given atheism, where's the a fortiori argument in the first place? After all, according to atheists like Singer, couldn't the question be turned around: if it's good to euthanize humans, why not dogs?

    Perhaps the atheist will prefer a consequentialist or utilitarian rubric. What's best for the majority of miserable dogs should apply to all miserable dogs. However, that still doesn't tell us if it's more beneficial for a miserable dog to live or die.