Animal euthanasia in modern times is a common practice, especially in the Western world. A method considered to induce a gentle and easy death for suffering animals due to various illnesses or of those of an advanced age, euthanasia is also administered to many homeless pets for a number of reasons. For example in the United States euthanasia is administered to animals in shelters due to not being able to humanely house and support all homeless animals until their natural death thereby forcing them to live in cramped cages or kennels for years, lonely and stressed with authorities also having to turn away other animals due to lack of space to accommodate them.
Euthanasia is a word of Greek origin, that roughly translates to ‘good death’. As for animal rights many believe that euthanasia should only be administered in serious cases where there is no hope for an animal’s recovery. However animals are put down due to the owners being unable to or do not want to care for a pet anymore. There was a time when private clinics would put down animals on request
They also consider that turning unwanted animals loose to roam the streets is not a humane option as this can expose the animals to many dangers such as starvation, being run over by vehicles, being tormented and possibly killed by cruel juveniles or picked up by dealers who obtain animals to sell to laboratories.
While this remains the case in the west, however in Asia, including Sri Lanka animal euthanasia is still considered to be a grey area by Veterinarians and Pet owners alike. In Sri Lanka there exists a reluctance regarding euthanasia as it is considered to be an extreme measure due to various religious or personal reasons.
According to former Directress of the Welisara Veterinary Hospital Dr. Indra Attanayke euthanasia of animals is not a common practice in Sri Lanka unless there is an essential need to end the extreme suffering of an animal. “Many Veterinarians are reluctant to do so due to religious beliefs especially as this is a Buddhist country,” she said adding that government veterinary hospitals refrain from administering euthanasia to animals.
According to her many pet owners too are reluctant to consider it while in many cases when euthanasia is requested vets refer their patients to the limited number of pet clinics that administer it. “In Sri Lanka, as in most other countries, an intravenous injection is administered to the animal” she said adding that it is considered as the most painless way to put down an animal. PETA, The American Veterinary Medical Association, and The Humane Society of the United States concur that an intravenous injection of sodium pentobarbital administered by a trained professionasl is the kindest, most compassionate method of euthanizing animals.
Even though euthanasia of animals has been readily accepted in the west, religious beliefs have controlled animal euthanasia from becoming a common practice in Sri Lanka, especially due to being a prominently Buddhist country.
According to Ven. Ittekande Saddhatissa Thera Buddhism does not support ending the life of any being. “We believe our life does not belong to us, therefore we have no right to end our own life or another’s,” he said adding that even in an instance of severe sickness the Buddha through action showed that the person should be treated. “Nowhere did the Buddha ever mention that a person or animal should be put to death due to sickness,” he said. Presenting the story of Bhikku Poothigatta Tissa who suffered from a severe rash, Saddhatissa Thera said that the Buddha and his disciples attempted to treat the priest to the best of their capabilities. According to Saddhatissa Thera as Buddhists, who believe in Karma as well as rebirth, putting down an animal for whatever reason is more harmful even though we intend it not to be so. “We deprive the animal of a better rebirth,” he said as according to Buddha one has to face one’s Karma or else it will follow one to the next life.
In Islam however there are different opinions regarding the matter. While in general Islam does not allow the killing of animals unless for a useful purpose such as the use of skin or for food however as no benefit is intended other than putting the animal to sleep to end its agony, then there is a difference of opinion between classical jurists.
According to some schools of thought an animal despite its suffering should be allowed to die a natural death. However according to the Hanafi and Maliki Schools of Islamic law, if the animal is in extreme pain and close to death and there is no hope of its recovery, then there is no sin in having it killed.
From a Christian perspective, while the Bible nowhere explicitly addresses animal or pet euthanasia, there are some biblical principles that apply. Through such principles Christians deduce that a biblical practice of animal or pet euthanasia can be developed. While humans according to them are to be merciful to animals, humans too have the authority to end the lives of animals when necessary as humans are considered to be caretakers of all other living beings. Therefore Christianity provides for ending animal suffering, which has no hope of recovery. It is considered to be the most merciful thing to quickly and as painlessly as possible end its life.
Just as Islam however Hindus too have two different thoughts on euthanasia. While some Hindus see a person helping to end a life that is suffering as doing a good deed thereby gaining good karma similar to the view of Buddhism other Hindus see euthanasia of any form as interrupting the timing of rebirth thus attaining bad karma as a result of such actions.
Euthanasia is a word of Greek origin that roughly translates to ‘good death’. As for animal rights many believe in Sri Lanka that euthanasia should only be administered in serious cases where there is no hope for an animal’s recovery. Speaking to The Nation, animal rights activist of Sathwa Mithra organization Sagarika Rajakarunanayake said personally she does not believe in euthanizing animals. “I only believe such action can be taken if an animal is seriously affected by an illness where there remains no hope for the animal or in the case it has met with a serious accident,” she said adding that she firmly disapproves of animals being put down due to the owners not being able to or do not want to care for a pet anymore.
“I’m glad to say many vets do not comply with requests to put down animals due to such reasons,” she said. According to her there was a time when private clinics would put down animals on request. Explaining her point of view she related a story where a severely injured dog was rescued by her. “The animal was about to be put down but today with treatment it is still alive and doing well,” she said that this is proof that euthanasia should only be an option when the extreme need arises. According to her this should not be a way out for the convenience of humans as animal lives too are important.
According to Kalpana, putting down a pet was one of the most difficult decisions she had to make. “But it was after taking a second opinion,” she said adding that both doctors agreed the pet should be eased out of its severe suffering. Despite being a staunch Buddhist she says she would opt for euthanasia for pets if nothing can be done to save it and if it is suffering greatly due to an illness. “The Buddha has preached that a person’s intention is what matters in any action,” she said adding that she too does not agree that euthanasia is an option to control a surplus of animal population.
Hasanka another member of the public that The Nation spoke to who had ended the life of a pet himself, said his father who owned a farm has taught him that this was the best possible outcome for an animal in pain. “My pet was going through a painful death and I had to end its life sooner by shooting it,” he says. While saying it was a difficult decision to make however he believes this was the best possible he could do under the circumstances.
For many in Sri Lanka animal euthanasia still remains a question. While some feel that putting down any living being violates the Hippocratic Oath of a doctor where they promise to “Give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked nor suggest any counsel,” to others who feel it contravenes ones religious beliefs. There also exists today extreme ecocentric thinking where one recognizes that all species, including humans, are the product of a long evolutionary process and are inter-related in their life processes. They believe that all living organisms therefore have a right to life with no intervention by humans or otherwise.
For various reasons today Sri Lankans remain skeptical or reluctant regarding putting down pets. Perhaps this is the best at a time where pet owners have been exposed to better pet care, animal rights and better sensitivity to animal issues. Even though administered in necessary circumstances it must be understood that owning a pet comes with responsibilities that cannot be disposed of through euthanasia while controlling the surplus of animals should be done through island wide sterilization rather than senseless euthanisation of healthy animals.