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Ethical decision making

Dorothy E F McKeegan
BVA Animal Welfare Foundation Senior Lecturer
University of Glasgow
dorothy....
Outline
• Animal ethics introduction
– Do animals have moral standing?
– Animal interests
– Ethical frameworks

• Euthanas...
Animal ethics: difficult questions
• Why should we care about animals?
• Do animals have moral status?
• What human action...
Sentience and moral status
• For most of us, the conscious mental experiences of
animals lie at the heart of our concern f...
Intrinsic moral value
If animals have a mental life and feelings
(e.g.) if they can feel pain

Interests flow from these f...
Animal interests
Quality of Life
•
•

Hunger & Thirst
Fear & Distress

•
•
•

Pain, Injury & Disease
Discomfort
Behavioura...
Do animals matter as much as
humans?
Equal consideration
• Animals deserve equal consideration. For example, a cat’s
suffe...
Sentience does not always relate to moral
status – context is important
Same animal, different moral status

Pest
No moral...
The socio-zoological scale
•

A hierarchy of animals — a moral ordering, based on
traditions and prejudices

•

People rat...
Three ethical frameworks
• Contractarian
– Only humans are morally relevant, animals have no moral status
so do not create...
Applying the frameworks
Are you against hunting?
•

Contractarian – “No, it is a good sport and it benefits rural
economie...
Euthanasia, killing and the value of
animal life
Justifications for killing animals
•
•
•
•
•

For food
Pest control
Resea...
Quality or quantity of life?
•
•
•
•

Wide agreement that welfare (QOL) is important
No quantity of life protection in leg...
Is death a harm?
• Death is distinct from dying which may
involve suffering
• Death itself precludes all experiences,
posi...
Death is not a harm - arguments
• Only quality matters
– Our only duty to animals is to ensure they live good lives,
as lo...
Death is a harm - arguments
• Lost opportunities
– Death forecloses valuable opportunities that continued
life would give
...
BVA Euthanasia guide
• Absolutely justified euthanasia
– No better option for the animal

• Contextually justified euthana...
Ethical decision making
• Those working with companion animals
face complex situations – leading to
daunting dilemmas
• We...
Case example - Jasper
•
•
•
•

•
•

Staffordshire bull terrier, 4 years old, friendly to
adults, in shelter for 7 months
J...
Influences on the decision
For euthanasia

Against euthanasia

•

•
•
•

•
•
•

•

Jasper presents a danger to
children (a...
Whose interests?
For euthanasia

Against euthanasia

•

•
•
•

•

•
•

•

Jasper presents a danger to
children (and other ...
Ranking of interests
Animal (5 influences)
Organisation (4 influences)
Society and Individual vet (1 influence each)
•

Bu...
Example of weighting influences
For euthanasia

Against euthanasia

•

•
•
•

•
•
•

•

Jasper presents a danger to
childr...
Ranking of interests
Society
Organisation
Animal
Individual vet
Influences and ranking will differ between individuals
• Q...
Ethical decision making
•
•
•

•
•
•
•

Prepare (think about it in advance)
Consider the options
– Physically available, p...
In conclusion…
• Ethical reasoning is a skill which can be practiced
and improved

• Reasoning through ethical decisions e...
Thank you
for listening

dorothy.mckeegan@glasgow.ac.uk
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ICAWC 2013 - Ethical Decision Making - Dorothy McKeegan

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ICAWC 2013 Barcelona, Spain - Dorothy McKeegan's presentation on Ethical Decision Making

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ICAWC 2013 - Ethical Decision Making - Dorothy McKeegan

  1. 1. Ethical decision making Dorothy E F McKeegan BVA Animal Welfare Foundation Senior Lecturer University of Glasgow dorothy.mckeegan@glasgow.ac.uk
  2. 2. Outline • Animal ethics introduction – Do animals have moral standing? – Animal interests – Ethical frameworks • Euthanasia and value of animal life • Ethical decision making – Case example
  3. 3. Animal ethics: difficult questions • Why should we care about animals? • Do animals have moral status? • What human actions towards animals are acceptable or unacceptable? • What is the value of animal life? • Is painless death a harm?
  4. 4. Sentience and moral status • For most of us, the conscious mental experiences of animals lie at the heart of our concern for their welfare • Capacity to feel (pleasure and suffering) is the basis of moral status – can be harmed or benefited by the actions of others • Note that having moral status doesn't mean having morals – having moral status is being a moral patient – having morals has to do with being a moral agent • e.g. new-born baby has moral status, but does not have morals
  5. 5. Intrinsic moral value If animals have a mental life and feelings (e.g.) if they can feel pain Interests flow from these feelings (e.g.) the interest in avoiding pain Others are obliged to respect such interests
  6. 6. Animal interests Quality of Life • • Hunger & Thirst Fear & Distress • • • Pain, Injury & Disease Discomfort Behavioural restriction • • • • Pleasure Happiness Play Species behaviour Quantity of Life • Shortened life • Extended life
  7. 7. Do animals matter as much as humans? Equal consideration • Animals deserve equal consideration. For example, a cat’s suffering matters as much as a human’s suffering. Sliding Scale • Humans deserve full, equal consideration, but other animals deserve consideration in proportion to their cognitive, emotional, and social complexity. For example, a monkey’s suffering matters less than a human’s suffering but more than a rat’s suffering.
  8. 8. Sentience does not always relate to moral status – context is important Same animal, different moral status Pest No moral status Lab animal Indirect value Pet Intrinsic value
  9. 9. The socio-zoological scale • A hierarchy of animals — a moral ordering, based on traditions and prejudices • People rate animals as morally more or less important, and therefore more or less worth protecting, according to a number of factors – – – – – • how useful the animal is how closely one collaborates with the individual animal how cute and cuddly the animal is how harmful the animal can be how ‘demonic’ it is perceived to be (including historically) Its use as a basis for animal protection can be criticized on both scientific and ethical grounds – but it is part of society
  10. 10. Three ethical frameworks • Contractarian – Only humans are morally relevant, animals have no moral status so do not create moral duties • Utilitarian – Animals deserve equal moral consideration; in deciding what to do, we must consider welfare consequences for animals as well as potential benefits (for humans or animals) and try to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number (cost-benefit) • Animal rights – Fixed ethical rules place limits on our treatment of animals; individual rights cannot be violated to benefit others
  11. 11. Applying the frameworks Are you against hunting? • Contractarian – “No, it is a good sport and it benefits rural economies” • Utilitarian – “Not in all cases. It may be a good way of controlling a population and thus secure better welfare for wildlife. Also, it may be a way to get meat from animals that had good lives” • Animal rights – “Yes, we should not kill healthy animals” Most of us hold hybrid views containing elements of each framework (may also depend on context)
  12. 12. Euthanasia, killing and the value of animal life Justifications for killing animals • • • • • For food Pest control Research Hunting Euthanasia Companion animals – special status • Difficult decision – source of dilemmas
  13. 13. Quality or quantity of life? • • • • Wide agreement that welfare (QOL) is important No quantity of life protection in legislation Debate over the value of animal life Evidence that quantity of animal life does matter to (many) people – Moral vegetarianism – Vets unwilling to kill healthy animals – Shelters and re-homing programmes for abandoned pets – Advanced treatments of companion animals – Critical attitudes to hunting
  14. 14. Is death a harm? • Death is distinct from dying which may involve suffering • Death itself precludes all experiences, positive or negative • Death ordinarily considered to harm humans • But does a painless death harm animals? “Death is not a welfare issue” John Webster
  15. 15. Death is not a harm - arguments • Only quality matters – Our only duty to animals is to ensure they live good lives, as long as those lives last • Nature of animal consciousness – Animals can’t perceive/anticipate death – Animals don’t have long term plans, hopes or desires that can be thwarted by death • Animals are replaceable – In a way that humans aren’t
  16. 16. Death is a harm - arguments • Lost opportunities – Death forecloses valuable opportunities that continued life would give – Greater harm to kill younger animals? • Right to life – Animals have strong moral claim to continued life, regardless of their ability to perceive death • Indirect consequences – If animals are thought of as replaceable this may negatively affect the way they are treated
  17. 17. BVA Euthanasia guide • Absolutely justified euthanasia – No better option for the animal • Contextually justified euthanasia – There is at least one better option but the circumstances are such that it could not be taken – euthanasia is the best available option • Non-justified euthanasia – Better alternatives are available
  18. 18. Ethical decision making • Those working with companion animals face complex situations – leading to daunting dilemmas • We do ethical reasoning every day – balancing interests • Reasoning behind our decisions is sometimes hidden • Actions based on ‘gut feeling’ • Easier to think of ‘influences on my decision’ rather than ‘ethical arguments’
  19. 19. Case example - Jasper • • • • • • Staffordshire bull terrier, 4 years old, friendly to adults, in shelter for 7 months Jasper is very aggressive towards other dogs After many appeals, finally a man puts in a request of interest to rehome Jasper Due to potential aggression, the shelter is very careful about who adopts him, yet the interested party seems ideal; a single man in his thirties, who has previous experience with Staffordshire terriers The man has a 6 year old daughter who does not live with him but often stays over A meeting is arranged between Jasper and the daughter and it does not go well. Jasper shows very obvious signs of aggression and it is clear the adoption cannot go ahead • Should Jasper be euthanised?
  20. 20. Influences on the decision For euthanasia Against euthanasia • • • • • • • • Jasper presents a danger to children (and other dogs) Painless death will not harm Jasper Jasper’s QOL in kennels may be suboptimal The shelter has limited resources and his place could be taken by another dog likely to be rehomed The shelter’s reputation needs to be protected • • • Jasper has a right to life Jasper is young and healthy Jasper could be rehomed and have a good life A vet will have to do the euthanasia The kennel staff are very attached to Jasper The shelter’s reputation needs to be protected
  21. 21. Whose interests? For euthanasia Against euthanasia • • • • • • • • Jasper presents a danger to children (and other dogs) S Painless death will not harm Jasper A Jasper’s QOL in kennels may be suboptimal A The shelter has limited resources and his place could be taken by another dog likely to be rehomed O The shelter’s reputation needs to be protected O • • • Jasper has a right to life A Jasper is young and healthy A Jasper could be rehomed and have a good life A A vet will have to do the euthanasia V The kennel staff are very attached to Jasper O The shelter’s reputation needs to be protected O
  22. 22. Ranking of interests Animal (5 influences) Organisation (4 influences) Society and Individual vet (1 influence each) • But these influences provide arguments on both sides and may some are probably more important than others • We need to weight the influences, or at least identify the most important ones
  23. 23. Example of weighting influences For euthanasia Against euthanasia • • • • • • • • Jasper presents a danger to children (and other dogs) 6 Painless death will not harm Jasper 4 Jasper’s QOL in kennels may be suboptimal 6 The shelter has limited resources and his place could be taken by another dog likely to be rehomed 4 The shelter’s reputation needs to be protected 6 • • • Jasper has a right to life 3 Jasper young and healthy 3 Jasper could be rehomed and have a good life 5 A vet will have to do the euthanasia 3 The kennel staff are very attached to Jasper 4 The shelter’s reputation needs to be protected 4 0-6 where 6 is most important
  24. 24. Ranking of interests Society Organisation Animal Individual vet Influences and ranking will differ between individuals • Quality and quantity – quality more important? • Whether death is considered a harm • Whether animals have a right to life (Jasper was euthanised)
  25. 25. Ethical decision making • • • • • • • Prepare (think about it in advance) Consider the options – Physically available, professional, legal Analyse the issues – Identify influences on the decision – (Apply any relevant ethical rules/principles) – Which influences are most important? – Who’s interests do they represent? – Who’s interests are strongest? (Discuss with others) Act (minimise the impact of the decision) Reflect on the decision and outcomes Prepare for next time
  26. 26. In conclusion… • Ethical reasoning is a skill which can be practiced and improved • Reasoning through ethical decisions eliminates guilt – better decisions and happier decision makers • Generates justifications/arguments which can be discussed with others • Some ethically problematic outcomes are beyond your control – you can only choose from available options
  27. 27. Thank you for listening dorothy.mckeegan@glasgow.ac.uk

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