A brief thought about words: euthanasia

A recent comment sought to amend my terminology when I described the killing of Emma the shih tzu as ‘slaughter’. The terms ‘put to sleep’ and euthanasia’ were not only preferred, but my use of the word ‘slaughter’ was condemned. The comment even went so far as to suggest that it was probably ‘doing a kindness’ to Emma, given the conditions of many shelters.

Such a comment illustrates exactly why, as advocates, our language and terminology are so critical. Regular readers will know that there are certain words that I avoid because I deem them to be ‘trigger words’, terms that provoke such a level of outrage that the original point gets lost in debate about the words themselves, however this is not such a case. This is a case where we need to just tell it like it is.

Killing with ‘kindness’

I’ve no doubts that the terms ‘put to sleep’ and euthanasia’ do make people far more comfortable, in exactly the same way as the myriad other euphemisms that we use to describe the unnecessary and brutal taking of body parts and unconsenting servitude, their life and their joy from so many trillions of defenceless creatures every year.

The phrase ‘put to sleep’ is the one we use to explain assisted death to children. It’s deliberately woolly, and has its place in the process when parents are gently explaining the realities of living and dying. In this context it’s an obvious refusal to confront the morality of Emma’s situation.

‘Euthanasia’ is defined as the painless killing of a patient suffering from an incurable and painful disease. Emma was not ailing and she wanted to live. No matter how painless it may have been, her killing most certainly was not euthanasia.

Speciesism in action

The other point that can’t be avoided is the fact that anyone would even consider it appropriate to do this ‘kindness’ for Emma. Consider if Emma had been a human child, the beloved daughter of the deceased woman. Regardless what her ‘last request’ was, would it have been considered acceptable to have the child ‘put to sleep’ or ‘euthanised’ and cremated for burial with her parent on the basis of the challenges inherent in state orphanage provision or adoption and fostering?

I think we all know the answer to that one. It’s utterly unthinkable. You’re probably even shaking your head at the ludicrousness of the question. And there – right there – we have a perfect illustration of speciesism, which to remind the reader is the practice of according or withholding the rights of others based solely upon their species.

The fact is that by using terms like ‘put to sleep’ and ‘euthanasia’, everyone involved and those who defend them are able to distort their actions and reinvent the narrative. They are framed as no longer immorally taking the life of an individual who wanted to live, but rather ‘doing a kindness to a poor little dog’.

The last word

That’s not to say that there aren’t alternative, perhaps even better words that I could have used, other than slaughter. In fact on reflection, I think there definitely is one.

Although ‘slaughter’ was chosen to remind readers of the parallel that we unnecessarily inflict on trillions of other healthy individuals each year, the word I perhaps should have used is ‘execution’, the carrying out of a death sentence on a condemned individual. Emma was executed.

Whatever the best word may have been, it wasn’t ‘euthanasia’.

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