Reengaging Voices of Animal Suffering
The paper discusses the potential for recognizing animals as autonomous individuals through a critique of the handling of suffering of terminally ill companion animals. To this end, it offers three distinct reflections on animal suffering through immanent readings of the painting The Death of the Stag (1786) by Benjamin West (1738–1820), a personal experience with caring for a dog dying from cancer, and a thought from Theodor W. Adorno’s Negative Dialectics (1966). Neither developing a coherent theory of animal suffering nor ethical or medical recommendations for the handling of terminally ill companion animals, an open dialectics between individualizing and reifying tendencies in suffering is drawn out by way of these reflections. As a consequence, the paper argues that the euthanizing of terminally ill companion animals as preemptive measure to avoid suffering undermines the individuality of animals and deprives humans of an experience of the animal as an autonomous other. By confronting these three instances with each other, the paper concludes that enabling animals to face up to a terminal illness, at least up to a certain point, rather than to prevent such struggle, recognizes them as autonomous individuals in their own rights. Thereby, finally, also a window opens up to realize our own semblance to animals.
KeywordsAnimal suffering Euthanasia Companion animals Painting Animal care Adorno
I am grateful to Cecilia Novero for her comments on an earlier version of the essay and to the editors of this issue of Food Ethics for their openness towards its unconventional approach. The text is dedicated to the memory of Skylla.
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