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Decision making
Comments on the dilemma in the October issue: ‘Grey squirrel treatment and hand-rearing’

Abstract

The dilemma in the October issue involved an injured female grey squirrel and her offspring, which were brought to your practice. While the mother had to be humanely euthanased, the question remained of what to do with the kits. A nurse was eager to hand-rear them but you were also aware that grey squirrels are considered a destructive, non-native species (In Practice, October 2012, volume 34, pp 550-551). Glen Cousquer commented that there were empirical, legal and ethical considerations to take into account when making this decision. As a profession, veterinarians had a duty to ensure that the welfare of an animal was not compromised as well as to educate the public about such ethical issues. Based on those considerations and professional priorities, he suggested that hand-rearing the squirrels and releasing them under license would be a possible way forward. However, the kits would have to be euthanased if they originated from an area with red squirrels, into which they could not be released.

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I was very surprised to read that if ‘the squirrels are from an area that hosts red squirrels… the kits should be humanely killed’. I think it is inherently wrong that it is not even an option to attempting to relocate or rehome the young. It was man who introduced grey squirrels into this part of the world, so not only have we already led to the decline of the red squirrel population, but we are now enforcing these regulations in an attempt to bring back the natural order that was destroyed by man in the first place. In this scenario, upholding these values is leading us to kill innocent animals. I'm in no doubt that it can be argued that this is the right thing to do in terms of preserving a species, but in the big picture, and also the immediate one, I do not see how the killing of these young animals can ever be ethically right.

Larissa Garnermann

Second-year student, UCD

MY questioning of the very assumptions on which an ethical evaluation is made reminds us that there are, arguably, no moral facts, and that judgments are contextual and must take into account and question the contemporary thinking of the time. Nussbaum's Frontiers of Justice reminds us that we live in an age where the nation state has staked a claim to sovereignty that often supersedes that of humanity. In any ethical dilemma we forget about the individual at our peril, dismissing them as collateral damage that can be justified economically or on the grounds of self interest.

In the case of the grey squirrel, its classification as an alien species is possible because, as a terrestrial mammal, its ability to colonise new lands is reliant on man, and we are in the habit of viewing humanity in opposition to nature. This allows us to view man-made effects as unnatural.

While, there may be a great deal of value in critically scrutinising the effect we have on the environment, especially, given our ability to cause great damage to it, we should remain humble in the face of nature for we are part of it rather than its master and keeper. The concept of alien versus native species is, debatably, a false dualism, much like individual is to society, human to nature and human to animal. Any frontiers between nations and species are but lines drawn on a map; they are cultural creations that we are accountable for. We need to recognize how our patterns and habits of thought affect our moral judgment.

Returning to the grey squirrel, we clearly need to remain sensitive to the welfare of the individual, to its right to life and of the welfare and flourishing of the wider ecosystem. We, therefore, need to respond as pragmatically as possible to such situations rather than lapsing into a rule-following default, which does not do justice to the practical wisdom we should demonstrate as professionals.

Glen Cousquer

Edinburgh, UK

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