People say that the greatest love one can give others is to sacrifice his or her life for the sake of others. In celebrating Easter, we are reminded of the great example set by Jesus, and how such love triumphs over death.
But how about that kind of love which dictates that one has to take away the lives of others, in order to terminate their suffering or to stop them living without dignity and against their own wish? While the difficult decision and action may be taken out of the great love for the sufferer, this is a highly controversial issue. It involves the complications of who and how to decide how bad the condition of the sufferer is and whether it is a hopeless and irreversible case, whether the sufferer's wish can be found out and his consent sought, and who to execute the killing, etc., among others. It also makes a huge difference whether it is the life of a human or an animal at stake.
The follow extract, from the book Water for the Elephant, describes how Jacob Jankowski, the main character, put down a horse diagnosed with an incurable disease.
Finally, I pick up the rifle, slide the shell into the chamber, and throw the bolt. Silver Star's muzzle is pressed up against the end of his stall, his ears twitching. I lean over and run my fingers down his neck. Then I place the muzzle of the gun under his left ear and pull the trigger.
There's an explosion of sound and the butt of the rifle bucks into my shoulder. Silver Star's body seizes, his muscles responding to one last synaptical spasm before finally falling still. From far away, I hear a single desperate whinny.
My ears are ringing as I climb down from the stock car, but even so it seems to me that the scene is eerily silent. A small crowd of people has gathered. They stand motionless, their faces long. One man pulls his hat from his head and presses it to his chest.
I walk a few dozen yards from the train, climb the grassy bank, and sit rubbing my shoulder...
I sit for close to an hour, staring at the grass between my feet. I pluck a few blades and roll them in my fingers, wondering why the hell it's taking them so long to pull out.
After a while August approaches. He stares at me, and then leans over to pick up the rifle. I hadn't been aware of bringing it with me.
"Come on, pal," he says. "Don't want to get left behind."
"I think I do."...
"Is that the first time you've shot a horse?" he says...
"No. But it doesn't mean I like it."
While the extract depicts how difficult it was to do something like that, the case was fairly straightforward. As someone with veterinary training from Cornell University according to the story, in other words, as someone with the authority to make the judgement and the decision, Jankowski called the shots, and he made the shot. When it is the life of an animal at stake, very often that is all it takes, even though Jankowski did feel wretched afterwards. And his was not a very typical human reaction. most people's response to the suffering of animals would be similar to that of August his companion, which is complete indifference.