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Sample Compare and Contrast Essay: Euthanasia on Humans and Animals
The approach to euthanasia varies greatly on the subject of the practice. Euthanasia on animals is a widely-accepted practice for farmers, pet owners, and veterinarians. Some laws even enforce euthanization to end the life of a suffering animal. Alternatively, euthanasia in humans is a delicate topic that consists of arguments from different parties. Only a few states have legalized the practice and despite this, there are still reservations and issues regarding patient requirements. Understanding the different patient types, methodologies, and reasons for these types of euthanasia can help develop better ideas regarding the ethics of the practice.
Perspectives of Medical Practitioners and Other Professionals
One of the differences between human and animal euthanasia is the medical professional that will conduct the procedure. Human euthanasia involves the supervision of an authorized physician while animal euthanasia requires a veterinarian. From their experiences, these medical professionals have established their views regarding euthanasia. According to Dames (2013), physicians and veterinarians have similar views regarding euthanasia but tend to disagree about the interchangeability of the topics. They believe that human and animal euthanasia are separate topics. This implies that medical professionals view human and animal euthanasia differently. Arguments and rationalizations for animal euthanasia do not apply to humans and vice versa.
Aside from veterinarians and physicians, the opinions of other professionals may provide a better understanding of the approach to the two types of euthanasia. In Cavanaugh (2016), the author quoted Brigid Brophy, an animal-rights activist, and novelist, and Australian Senator Peter Baume (2009) sharing their thoughts that humans treat animals better in regard to euthanasia. Laws regarding the two types allow humans to suffer from incurable diseases while prohibiting owners from keeping a suffering animal alive. Lesley Martin, a former registered nurse, also stated that most family members of suffering human patients acknowledge that there is an imbalance in the treatment between suffering humans and animals (Wood, 2009, cited in Cavanaugh, 2016). Farmers, pet owners, and other animal keepers can face legal consequences if they allow an animal to continue to suffer and avoid euthanization. For suffering humans, however, euthanization may not be an option depending on their state of residence and the severity of their health condition.
Value of Human Life and Animal Life
While both humans and animals are living things, the values of their existence are different, especially from the human perspective. According to Persson et al. (2020), animals do not have categorical desires making the value of their death similar to plants. The absence of categorical desires makes an animal’s life all about survival, diminishing its value from the human perspective. Furthermore, pet owners may consider animals subordinate or lesser in comparison to fellow humans that are important to them (Cavanaugh, 2015). For example, a female cat owner may value the life of her husband or children over the life of the pet. Euthanizing her husband or children will carry more weight than the euthanization of her cat.
Furthermore, pet euthanization can utilize the principle of replaceability as a rationalization for the process. While euthanizing a pet is a stressful and depressing experience, an individual has the option to replace the deceased animal (Cavanaugh, 2016). For example, dog owners can adopt a new puppy as soon as they are capable of taking care of one. While the new puppy may be a different breed, it will possess the basic characteristics of a dog and replace the deceased animal as a family pet. Alternatively, the principle of replaceability does not apply to humans. Each human individual possesses unique characteristics, traits, and memories. While a widow can find a new partner, the latter cannot replace the value of the deceased. They will have different categorical desires, memories, and personalities.
Since animals do not have categorical desires like humans, their existence focuses on survival and other basic needs. This prevents them from rising above their mortality and developing complex thoughts and ideas. This disability prevents an animal from killing itself (Cavanaugh, 2016). An animal suffering from extreme pain cannot express its pain aside from whining, struggling, and other visual indicators. They cannot choose to undergo euthanasia which becomes a justification for animal euthanasia. Cavanaugh (2016) stated that it is a kind gesture to kill a suffering animal since it cannot kill itself and end the pain. Humans, on the other hand, can communicate their suffering and vocalize their desire for euthanasia. They can make the choice, provided that they are in a country that decriminalized euthanasia.
Reasons for Human and Animal Euthanasia
Human and animal euthanasia share the main reason for conducting the procedures. Both allow patients to undergo euthanization if they are suffering from an incurable illness or injury that prevents them from functioning normally (Methods For, n.d.; Subizar, 2021). For animals, however, euthanasia is acceptable if the animal becomes a risk to humans and other animals. Cases that include contagious diseases and highly aggressive animals are examples of situations when an animal becomes a risk. For humans, specific cases that involve dementia can be a reason to request a euthanasia procedure (Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide, n.d.). There is also the need for physicians to guarantee that euthanasia patients have no other options to alleviate their suffering (Evenblij et al., 2019). These exemptions showcase the complexity of the process since specific cases may justify euthanasia.
To ensure that patients are qualified to undergo the procedure, veterinarians and physicians have to assess their conditions. According to the World Society for the Protection of Animals (n.d.), signs of pain on animals include extreme aggression to animate and inanimate objects, vocalization, escape attempts, struggling, panting, hyperventilating, salivating, dilated pupils, piloerection, tachycardia, muscle tremors and spasms, immobility, uncontrolled urination and defecation, empty anal sacs, and secretion of foul-smelling liquid. For humans, assessing the condition will include medical reports and verbal/physical confirmation from the patient. However, patients suffering from psychiatric disorders may have issues with their euthanasia request since the presence of mental illness introduces doubts regarding the intensity of their suffering (Evenblij et al., 2019). Unlike on animals, physicians may need to conduct more tests on human patients to assess and validate the reason for a patient’s euthanasia procedure.
Euthanasia Methodology for Humans and Animals
The process of human and animal euthanasia has a similarity regarding the use of medical drugs to cause a painless death. For animal euthanasia, the World Society for the Protection of Animals recommend using intravenous injection of 20% pentobarbitone solution because of its rapid-acting and distress-free effects. Veterinarians can also combine the substance with high concentrations of barbiturates to create an effective euthanasia agent. However, the availability of this substance depends on local legislation which can make it not optional for certain countries. The World Society for the Protection of Animals also allows the use of intraperitoneal injection of 20% pentobarbitone solution, intravenous injection of anesthetic agents for overdosing, intracardiac injection of 20% pentobarbitone solution, oral administration of pentobarbitone, intravenous injection of T61, intravenous or intracardiac injection of potassium chloride, intravenous or intracardiac injection of magnesium sulfate, inhalation of gaseous anesthetics (halothane, enflurane, isoflurane, sevoflurane) and shooting a bullet to the animal’s head. These methods are quick and painless for the animals, however, some of the substance requires specific conditions before veterinarians can apply them.
As mentioned, physicians also utilize medical substances to perform human euthanasia. However, before the procedure, the euthanasia patient will need to submit a written directive that describes their preferred circumstance of death. A medical committee will then review the directive and provide the decision on whether the patient will undergo the procedure (Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide, n.d.). Once the committee approves the euthanization, physicians can then perform the procedure in compliance with the patient’s directive. In 2013, physicians utilized barbiturates and neuromuscular relaxants, barbiturates only or with other drugs, and neuromuscular relaxants only or with other drugs There are also non-recommended drugs that physicians use are benzodiazepines only or with other drugs (excluding barbiturate, neuromuscular relaxant, or opioid), and opioids only or with other drugs (excluding barbiturate, neuromuscular relaxant, or benzodiazepine) (Dierickx, 2018). Physicians’ use of recommended and non-recommended drugs varies depending on the patient’s request and the approach of the medical practitioner.
Human and animal euthanasia have significant differences that separate them from each other. Humans’ perspective on the value of human and animal life affects the approach to these procedures. Human life is precious for humans, thus, complicating the process of human euthanasia. Alternatively, humans perceive animals as subordinates with no categorical desires that cannot rise above their mortality. This decreases the value of animal life in comparison to humans and justifies animal euthanasia. Understanding these distinctions, along with the methodologies and reasons for the practices, illuminates the different ethical approaches to human and animal euthanasia.
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Caninerabiesbluebrint.org. (n.d.). Methods for the Euthanasia of Dogs and Cats: Comparison and Recommendations. World Society for the Protection of Animals. https://caninerabiesblueprint.org/IMG/pdf/Link72_Euthanasia_WSPA.pdf. Accessed March 7, 2022.
Cavanaugh, T. (2016). Dignity, Pet-Euthanasia and Person Euthanasia. In J. Mizzoni (Ed.), G.E.M. Anscombe and Human Dignity, pp 117-142. Available at https://repository.usfca.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1059&context=phil . Accessed February 28, 2022.
Dames, E. (2013). A Comparison of Euthanasia in Humans Versus Animals. Honor Theses, 125. Available at https://encompass.eku.edu/honors_theses/125/. Accessed February 28, 2022.
Duerickx, S., Cohen, J., Stichele, R., Deliens, L., & Chambaere, K. (2018). Drugs Used for Euthanasia: A Repeated Population-Based Mortality Follow-Back Study in Flanders, Belgium, 1998-2013. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, vol 56(4). Available at https://www.jpsmjournal.com/article/S0885-3924(18)30339-7/fulltext. Accessed March 7, 2022.
Evenblij, K., Pasman, H., van der Heide, A., Hoekstra, T., & Onwuteaka-Philipsen, B. (2019). Factors Associated with Requesting and Receiving Euthanasia: A Nationwide Mortality Follow-Back Study with a Focus on Patients with Psychiatric Disorders, Dementia, or an Accumulation of Health Problems Related to Old Age. BMC Medicine, vol 17(39). Available at https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12916-019-1276-y#Abs1 . Accessed March 7, 2022.
Government.nl. Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide and Non-Resuscitation on Request. Government of the Netherlands. Available at https://www.government.nl/topics/euthanasia/euthanasia-assisted-suicide-and-non-resuscitation-on-request. Accessed March 7, 2022.
Subizar, P. (2021). This Woman Wanted to Die. Why Was Her Euthanasia Canceled? NBC News. Available at https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/woman-wanted-die-was-euthanasia-canceled-rcna3231. Accessed March 8, 2022.