Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Cat Survives Two Trips to Gas Chamber: Euthanasia and Buddhism

Djamila Grossman  /  AP
A stray cat has survived two trips to a Utah animal 
shelter's gas chamber, leading shelter volunteers to seek a switch of its euthanasia 
method to lethal injection, which they called more  humane.
Volunteers with the West Valley City's animal shelter were expected to appear at a city council meeting Tuesday evening to argue for the switch from carbon monoxide poisoning to injections of sodium pentobarbital.
No one adopted Andrea, a longhaired black cat with white paws and green eyes, in 30 days, so shelter officials tried to put her to death in October. She survived, so they gassed her again.

Shelter officials detected no vital signs and presumed she was dead after the second try, so they put her in a plastic bag in a cooler. But when they checked the bag, they saw she had vomited on herself and had hypothermia, but was alive.
Officials decided to stop trying to kill her.

The Practical Buddhist Responds

There is no Buddhist Pope to say whether euthanasia, especially pet euthanasia is wrong, but all agree it comes under the First Precept, Don't Kill.

What about war? Self Defense? Mosquitos, even?

The Noble Truths talk about relief of suffering. The Precepts about not killing.

You can make a case that a cat is a living, sentient being, and that death, especially an intentional death at the hands of others, a death that interrupts karmic process, is just wrong, especially when the means to relieve pain are available.

You can also make the case that a painless death is the kindest thing for a well loved pet.

It highlights a big difference between Buddhists and  some other philosophies.  For Buddhists, there is no sharp distinction between human life and all other life. Most Christians would never kill a suffering loved one but would readily, if sadly, take old Rover to the vet.

Does Buddhist teaching mean we should slow down on animal euthanasia? The conservative Buddhist would say you can't use "mercy" and "killing" in the same sentence.

Or should we use the same principles on our relatives as we do on our pets: When all else fails and death is inevitable, voluntary euthanasia may be the most loving action.

I worked in a big city hospital for eleven years and attended hundreds of deathbeds. I still don't have an answer.