Why we have such a problem in describing the killing of animals.
|We tend to change the terminology dependent on the animal involved.|
If we kill a fellow human without justification, we call it murder, and it is viewed a heinous crime unless legitimised by war, when we tend to use the word kill. When we deliberately and brutally kill a large group of humans, especially those of a particular nation or ethnic group, we use the terms genocide or massacre and when we legally terminate the life of a condemned person, we execute them. We almost exclusively reserve these words to describe human on human killing, but their usage is mainly ignored or seems inappropriate when it involves animals and we refrain from using them. Such terms appear to offend our sensibilities and prick our consciences if used in this context.
We assign a phrase or word which we believe is more agreeable & befits the occasion.
We are obviously uncomfortable about discussing and describing the act of killing animals which manifests itself in our confused use of expressions to describe it. Killing animals is viewed by most people as a taboo subject and we have an idiosyncratic approach to killing millions of animals each day by categorising animals into different groups and assigning a word or phrase which we believe is more agreeable and befits the occasion of ending its life.
The most popular generic term for the act of ending an animal's life is euthanasia, which derives from the Greek words Eu and thanotos meaning ‘well killing’ or ‘good killing’ and has been used since the 1600’s to describe mercy killing of both humans and animals. We tend to reserve its usage for companion animals, particularly dogs and cats, which we hold in more reverence because we view them as family members and our friends.
The act of euthanasia for companion animals has become almost a ritual, carried out with extreme compassion, sensitivity and veneration as suits such a situation, and it is usually performed by a qualified veterinarian in calm circumstances by injection, and with a familiar face present, often in the owners' home, and is as humane as possible, so different to the way we treat other animals in their final moment.
Some people though, still find this term too severe and so we use more assuaging phrases such as ‘putting to sleep’ or ‘putting out of its misery’, to make it appear less callous when we are discussing it, as though in some irrational way it makes it a more pleasant experience for both the animal and ourselves.
Slaughterhouse rather than a euthanasia house
When it concerns farmed food animals our sympathies change, and we go out of our way to distance ourselves from any emotion or guilt. For a start we call them livestock instead of animals, 'live' because we have to accept they are living creatures but also 'stock' because we need the assurance that they are also a commodity for us to utilise. We then employ the somewhat ruthless word of ‘slaughter’, the definition of which, in the context of humans, is brutal killing, but with animals just means killing for meat. Slaughter is of course an apt description as it is a rather brutal and ruthless death no matter how humanely done. We are also happy to use the same term for the place where the carnage takes place, so we call it a slaughterhouse in preference to a ‘euthanasia-house’ which we obviously find strangely unsettling because of its inference to pet animals.
We find using the word ‘harvesting’ more agreeable for the act of wholesale slaughter of animals.
When it involves wildlife our compassion unaccountably changes again, and we choose to ‘cull’ them and the heartlessness of this term is borne out by the word's definition which is ‘removing an inferior person or thing from a group’ and ‘something regarded as worthless, especially an unwanted or inferior animal removed from a herd’. Culling can involve just an individual, a certain species or millions of individuals.
In the context of conserving animals, the word culling is avoided by many as perhaps being a little harsh, so the term ‘harvesting’ comes into play usually with the tag that it is implemented in their long-term interest. But it doesn’t end there as different professions where killing animals is intrinsic also try to ease their sensibilities by using other phrases such as humane killing, hunting, management euthanasia and zoonasia.
We are uneasy with our various deeds of ending animals' lives
It is obvious that as a society we are uneasy with our various deeds of ending animals' lives and prefer to distance ourselves from any thoughts of their demise, but it doesn’t stop us from committing animal genocide the world over. The bottom line is that whichever term we choose to use they all mean the same thing - the intentional and premature ending of the life of a living creature.
As already mentioned, when it is time to put companion animals 'to sleep' the procedure is treated with great compassion, sensitivity and veneration as it should be, but it does seem a pity that we cannot extend the same deference to all animals by at least giving them the courtesy of using the same terminology.