“The Ethicist,” whom I have not harassed for a while, a.k.a Ariel Kaminer, handles this week an odd query from a woman who has been asked by an elderly friend to pledge to euthanize her dog after she dies. Kaminer, as she often does, makes the issue more complicated than it is and muddles things by implying some kind of inconsistency on the part of pet owners who find the request unethical but who will dine on cooked animal flesh this evening. She even had to consult Peter Singer, the controversial Princeton ethicist, about whether an animal has a “right to life.”
Every living thing has a right to life, and also a right to live, which is why eating other animals as humans have evolved to do is not incontrovertibly unethical. Killing an animal just because you can, or because it makes you happy, or because you have convinced yourself that it wants to die when in fact it doesn’t, however, is incontrovertibly unethical. The question posed brought back memories of a friend years ago whose parents were moving from a house to a smaller apartment, and who decided to euthanize their healthy, friendly, bounding boxer mix because “she just wouldn’t be happy with anyone else.” Utter vanity and utter cruelty was my assessment then and now. Dogs are very adaptable; yes, they will miss a beloved master, but they don’t make a fetish about it. “Look, I’ll be real sorry to lose you folks,” I could imaging my friend’s parents dog saying, “but don’t do me any favors. Trust me…I’ll get over it. Have a good trip!”
After making excuses for the dog owner in the instant situation, Kaminer finally gets around to agreeing that the woman’s request is wrong, and that the questioner would be wrong to pledge to kill a healthy dog for no reason other than the owner’s desire to have its imaginary future grief. The Ethicist writes, “You should tell her no. (Far better than telling her a dishonest yes. That’s just deceit.)” She tells the questioner that she should persuade the women to let her make sure the dog, a Pomeranian, is placed in a loving home.
But what if the questioner believes that the dying woman won’t take no for an answer, is determined to take Foofie with her to the Great Dog Park in the Sky, and will just find another surrogate dog-killer to do her bidding?
I say lie to her.
As lies go, it’s a perfect one: it gives the woman the peace of mind she seeks, yet prevents the wrong of sentencing an innocent Pomeranian (if any Pomeranian is indeed innocent) to death for no legitimate purpose, like eating it, based on a misconception of the depth of canine loyalty.