THIS series gives readers the opportunity to consider and contribute to discussion of some of the ethical dilemmas that can arise in veterinary practice. Each month, a case scenario is presented, followed by discussion of some of the issues involved.
In addition, a possible way forward is suggested; however, there is rarely a cut-and-dried answer in such cases, and readers may wish to suggest an alternative approach. This month's dilemma, ‘Emergency exsanguination of working equids’, was submitted and is discussed by Glen Cousquer. Readers with comments to contribute are invited to send them as soon as possible, so that they can be considered for publication in the next issue. Discussion of the dilemma ‘Value and treatment’, which was published in the January issue of In Practice, appears on page 103.
The series is being coordinated by Siobhan Mullan, of the University of Bristol. It is hoped it will provide a framework that will help practices find solutions when facing similar dilemmas.
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Glen Cousquer qualified from the University of Edinburgh in 1997 and completed his Certificate in Zoological Medicine in 2003. He has since worked in exotic and small animal emergency practice in France and the UK. He holds masters degrees in Outdoor Education and Educational Research and is an International Mountain Leader. He is currently an ESRC Scholar at the Institute of Geography at the University of Edinburgh.
Emergency exsanguinationof working equids
You are working for an animal welfare charity providing training to people living in remote communities in a developing world country. Working equids are widespread and leg fractures and other catastrophic injuries are not uncommon. Such animals may be left to die a slow lingering death. The reasons for this are complex and they reflect life experiences, practices, traditions and beliefs in which both the idea of ‘suffering’ and the concept of the ‘domestic animal’ find themselves embedded. You are faced with difficult decisions on how to tackle the subject of emergency euthanasia, especially given the fact that, in the absence of other alternatives, this will entail the use of a knife to achieve exsanguination. How do you approach this?
Issues to consider
The shock, indignation and outrage felt by many outsiders when confronted with a situation they view as unacceptable can often give rise to a desire to change that situation by imposing, rather than negotiating, what they believe to be a better solution. Such imperialist tendencies assume the superiority of western value systems and, therefore, efface indigenous knowledge. In doing so, ‘the omnipotence and uniformity of colonial discourse’ is overestimated, while ‘the actions and voices of non-Western peoples’ are underestimated (Armstrong 2002).
Recognising that one is no more an expert than those members of the community one is seeking to help is crucial. We need to set aside the judgements that blind us to the subtleties and complexity of the case. And for this, great humility is called for. To quote Simone Weil (2005), ‘. . . love of truth is always accompanied by humility. Real genius is nothing else but the supernatural virtue of humility in the domain of thought’.
Possible way forward
In recognising that their role is not that of ‘expert’ and that it is not sufficient just to provide students with technical instruction, the trainer must come to terms with the fact that education is an implicitly moral endeavour. The virtues cannot, however, be taught but must be explored by each individual as they seek the practical wisdom (phronesis) that will allow them to do the right thing at the right time and in the right way.
It is therefore important to distinguish between education that equips an individual with the means to undertake work unquestioningly and education that encourages students to reflect on and evaluate the ends that result from their work. In the words of John Tribe (2002), there are ‘technicist curricula’ that aim to deliver means to achieve given ends and critical curricula that hold ends up for critical scrutiny'.⇓
Euthanasia and the abrogation of suffering can therefore be proposed as ends for consideration and discussion. Community members can then be invited to explore the inconsistencies and contradictions of widely differing readings of the situation.
In doing so, the trainer's humility and willingness to learn provide opportunities for the complexity of the situation to be better understood. It might, for example, highlight that emergency slaughter of sick and injured ruminants is practised in these communities and that it allows these animals to be consumed and the value of these animals as a resource to be realised. By contrast, there is often no tradition of eating equids and the concept of euthanasia for non-food animals is little known. This insight can, in turn, give rise to the recognition that community insurance schemes might be needed to compensate owners for such losses.
Identifying those community elders who routinely cut the throat of cattle similarly provides an opportunity for learning. Soliciting their contributions creates the space for their practical experiences to inform the debate. What knowledge, understanding and equipment is required and how do they become proficient in this act? A community approach to learning allows insights and understanding to be shared. Actively listening to the learner and partnering them in their learning and development has the potential to build trust, achieve synergy and, arguably, advance the welfare of the helpless equid.
Readers with views to contribute on ‘Emergency exsanguination of working equids’ should e-mail them toso that they can be considered for publication in the next issue. The deadline for receipt of comments is Friday, February 21. Please limit contributions to 200 words.
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