Doing the Right Thing for Troy: A Critical Look at Pet Euthanasia in the United States
By, Laura Winocur, JD in 2015 from Fordham School of Law
This presentation aims to explore the ethics of animal euthanasia by examining the role that pervasive ableism plays in influencing medical care for both nonhuman and human animals. I will frame the issue by telling the story of the life and death of my dog, Troy, who passed away in 2010 at the age of 15. I will contrast the approaches of two different veterinarians that my family saw for Troy’s care: one who pushed to euthanize him when he had a leg injury, and one who recommended surgery instead. I will discuss the motivations that I believe underlie each veterinarian’s approach, and extrapolate this analysis to theorize about paradigms concerning animal care generally. I intent to take special note of the dominance of ableist thought in veterinary care, and the tendency to view animals through a utilitarian lens. I will then compare this with my experiences with my late father, who had multiple disabilities and received an organ transplant in 2006. Organ allocation for transplantation in the United States is determined by a host of troublingly ableist factors, which I will explore in depth. Finally, I aim to assert that the same kind of ableist thought motivates much of the emphasis on euthanasia as the “right thing to do” so frequently for sick or disabled animals.
I will also discuss the ethics personally choosing euthanasia for a pet, completing Troy’s narrative and discussing the ethical implications of the decisions my family and I made regarding his care. Next, I will briefly discuss legal approaches to animal euthanasia, noting the lack of regulation in the United States and relating it to animals’ legal status as property under the law, and touching on laws in other countries intended to address some of the ethical problems in animal euthanasia. I will end the presentation with a series of discussion points and questions, including whether and how the legal system should address animal euthanasia, the link between ableism and problematic aspects of veterinary care, the special nature of the relationship between dogs and humans and whether that implies extraordinary duties, and the roles of ableism and speciesism in influencing how we care for our pets.
Laura Winocur is a third year law student at Fordham University School of Law in New York City, where she is active in the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund and will compete in this year’s National Animal Law Competition at Harvard University. She is currently employed by the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board, and has previously worked as a judge’s clerk at the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, a legal fellow for the National Center for Transgender Equality, a litigation extern at the New York City Transit Authority, a research assistant for a professor of criminal law at Fordham, and an intern for the New York Hotel Trades Council, AFL-CIO. She has written extensively on the ethics of organ transplantation and comparative religious freedom in secular states. Her interests include bioethics, nonhuman animal personhood, and feminism.