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The study of animal death is poised to blossom into an exciting new interdisciplinary field—and one with profound relevance for bioethics. Areas of interest include the biology and evolution of death-related behavior in nonhuman animals, as well as human social, psychological, cultural, and moral attitudes toward and practices related to animal death. In this paper, I offer a brief overview of what we know about death-related behavior in animals. I will then sketch some of the bioethical implications of this emerging field of research.

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  1. The case for empathy in nonhuman animals is well-established. See, especially, Preston and de Waal (2002), Bekoff and Pierce (2009), and de Waal (2009). Whether nonhuman animals have a sense of fairness is still very much open to question, but evidence that fairness is a broadly evolved strategy, deployed within a range of animal societies, is beginning to accumulate. Bekoff and Pierce (2009) provided an early discussion of fairness in animals; the journal Social Justice Research recently published two special issues on justice in animal societies, chock full of new research on justice in primates, canids, cetaceans, birds, and even fish (there were too many papers to fit into one journal issue). On the appropriateness of using “human” terms such as “empathy” and “fairness,” see Pierce and Bekoff (2012).

  2. Here are the original studies cited by McMillan. On puppies: Scott, J.P. 1967. The development of social motivation. In Nebraska symposium on motivation, ed. D. Levine, 111–132. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. On rats: Weisner, B.P., and N.M. Sheard. 1933. Maternal behavior in the rat. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd. And the news report on Scarlett the cat: Sigesmund, B.J., and T. Namuth. 1996. Kitty badge of courage. Newsweek, April 15: 59.


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Correspondence to Jessica Pierce.

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Pierce, J. The Dying Animal. Bioethical Inquiry 10, 469–478 (2013).

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