Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Playing god and other human pursuits.

Today I'm thinking about euthanasia.  Alternately, murder.  I don't know.

Up until a few years ago I was set on a career in veterinary medicine.  I wanted, needed to be a veterinarian.  I... honestly, I don't really know why it was so important to me.  At first I suppose it was just like, "Oh I love animals, and I want to work in the sciences, and I want to help the animals that live with us."  I have always liked animals more than humans to some extent; as I've aged it's shifted from disgust with the human race and reverence of non-human animals to, well, I'm still pretty disgusted with humans, but it's less of a generalization and more on a case-by-case basis.  So when I was little I deemed non-human animals more deserving of medical care.  I counter any protests of "But you're human, and our pets need humans to provide that care," with "I was, like, six years old."  Six-year-olds aren't known for their expansive considerations of reality (ie how the world works).

As I got older I developed more concrete reasons for becoming a vet.  I started feeling that pulling at my heart when I thought of animals suffering illness or mistreatment.  I realized that I felt personally obligated to do whatever I could to help them, for they could not help themselves.  I still feel that obligation, but I realize now that your life's work should also be something that is fascinating to me, and my fascination is not in veterinary medicine.

My career plans are not the point.  So what is? you ask.  The point: one disparity between medicine for humans and non-humans is at the end of medicine.  By that I mean, of course, how and when death comes.

The very simple fact is: humans often choose when an animal will die.  Another simple fact: it is illegal and usually considered amoral for humans to choose when a human will die (with exceptions and/or loopholes).  Why?  If you ask someone that question, chances are they will have a hard time with a solid answer.  I've thought about this question a lot, and I've come to the conclusion that the law is as it is because there is an inherent assumption that humans are more important than non-humans.   I wouldn't expect an easy answer out of anyone to this question, either, even though it's basically a yes/no question.

My take is that it's something that people believe deeply--perhaps subconsciously--but are uncomfortable voicing aloud.  But shouldn't a person be able to say what she thinks?  Also, this belief in human superiority is probably widely-held, so speaking it aloud would place one squarely within the clear--albeit close-mouthed--majority.

I will speak: I do not agree with the statement that humans are more important than non-humans.  I strongly believe that humans are of equal importance with non-humans.  Who knows, maybe I'll change my mind in a few years; I did start out believing that non-humans were of more importance than humans.

The most trouble I have with that statement is the use of "important."  Calling something important implies that there is a purpose for it, and we've already said there is no purpose for living things, nor even for living.  Actually, Oxford English Dictionary defines important as "of great significance or value; likely to have a profound effect on success, survival, or well-being."  You could argue that because of the inclusion of "profound effect on... survival" it might have bearing on the relationship between these two things (humans and non-humans); actually there is no relevance to this comparison because the it is not comparing to methods of finding food or shelter or anything like that, so there is no element of survival.  It is not calling into question the survival skills of either being, but comparing them as if they were instrumental to some sort of universal scheme, which smacks of monotheism (and actually most religions with divinity/-ies). 

So the natural next question is "Why then do we decide when animals die and not when humans die?"  When we can't easily answer that one, we might go to "Why is it socially acceptable to decide for animals and not humans?" or even "Is it right?"  And then we get to right vs wrong, my least favorite dichotomy of all time (and I can even say with confidence that I will never meet another dichotomy that I loathe more).

It's been a hard week.

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