Is Killing Animals Ever Morally Excusable?

There almost always comes a point when we have to decide that the dog, cat or horse that we own is better off dead than alive. When your dog is blind, deaf, having seizures and seems to be in constant pain; would it be wrong to keep him alive with constant medical assistance? Would it be wrong to kill him? How is this different to the decision we make when killing a farm animal?

Currently, morality plays little part in our decision-making process with regards to non-human animals. Yet, they are sentient animals just like us. Isn’t it time we looked at including them in our moral community?

The pet we profess to love, the one we call a member of our family and our best friend; even this special non-human animal has been stripped of his right to life. Our vet will end his life at our request. We can be there to the very end, holding his paw and crying as if our heart is breaking. All the while bathing in the radiance of his unconditional love and the ocean of his forgiveness.

At the point where the human race decided to own animals and breed them, that is the point at which we took the step down the wrong path. Living beings are not ours to own. They are not our possessions. Any decision we make thereafter will be problematic and these decisions will always be fraught with distress. It is never morally justifiable to intentionally take the life of another sentient being. However, when there are mitigating factors, like chronic pain and terminal illness, then it might be excusable.

Why then, when we play God with the lives of the companion animals who have taken residence in our hearts and homes; why then, do we continue to fool ourselves into believing that farm animals will live happy lives and die painlessly, free from fear and suffering?

Dogs and calves recognise each other's sentience. Why can't we? Photo © 123RF Maximilian Pogonii.

When we decide to end the life of an unweaned calf his story is markedly different. Travelling to the slaughterhouse and being herded onto the kill floor, he is terrified. He gazes trustingly at the human who pushes him in directions he doesn’t want to go, hoping beyond hope that this is the person who will save him. It has been hours since he has suckled and his hunger is urgent and intense. Trembling with fear and crying for his mother, he tries to suckle on the fingers of the person who is shackling one of his legs to the production line. His look of trust changes to one of bewilderment and pain as he is suddenly pulled upside down just before the person slices open his throat.

There is absolutely no necessity for his death, so why is this calf being killed? He is not sick. He is not threatening our lives. His death will not save our lives. Even before his conception, he was discounted as a by-product. This precious miracle has been brought into existence for the sole purpose that it will increase his mother’s milk production.

Is this morally justifiable? No. Is it morally excusable? No. Can you think of any possible explanation we can give that would justify it in the eyes of this calf or his grieving mother?

The truth is that we do feel responsible, yet we fight against this knowledge with all of our might. The resulting moral schizophrenia causes suffering for us.

Being vegan is about living in alignment with your own moral compass. It is about saying ‘Yes’ to life and ‘No’ to murder. It is about hearing the cry for mercy and respecting all animals’ right to life. Being a vegan is peaceful, joyful and life-affirming.

“If you claim to ‘love’ animals but you eat animal products you need to think critically about how you understand love”
— Gary L Francione


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