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Till Death Do Us Part?

In her recent column, The New York Times Ethicist Ariel Kaminer took on a very challenging question from a veterinarian in Boston, Mass.

I am a veterinarian, and one of my clients is an elderly woman who loves her eight-year-old Pomeranian dearly but has no family or friends who might inherit it. She wants me to sign a legal document stating that I will euthanize it if she dies before the dog does. What should I do?

Mercifully, Kaminer ultimately comes down against the euthanization. But her first forays are cause for concern. The short version of the Ethicist’s reasoning begins as such: if the vet eats meat, she or he should have no more qualms in euthanizing the Pomeranian than she would seeing a cow slaughtered for her hamburger. From a vegetarian or vegan standpoint, complicity in the slaughter of farm animals is equally objectionable to terminating the life of a perfectly healthy pet upon request. But that doesn’t mean the reverse is true. In other words, making what might be considered an immoral choice in one area of my life (eating meat) does not amount to a behavioral free pass to other questionable acts (requesting the euthanization of my healthy companion animal).

This is a standard logical fallacy—It’s even got a fancy Latinate name, ad hominem tu quoque, broken logic that suggests a claim I make can’t be true if it is inconsistent in any way with my previous actions. But here’s the thing—few among us are uniform in our moral and ethical choices. And thankfully, because heaven knows what the implications would be of a bacon chili cheeseburger.

Have you prepared for your dog’s care in the event of your death? What arrangements have you made? What do you think is the responsible choice?

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Elizabeth Kennedy is a freelance writer and editor in the San Francisco Bay Area. elizabethkennedy.org

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