Thanks to Dennis Morris for addressing wildlife euthanasia (“The decision to euthanize a bald eagle,” April 16). Euthanasia is difficult to discuss and to reach a consensus about because it involves spiritual beliefs, philosophy, and morals. His commentary makes many good points, some of which I’d like to address as a professional wildlife rescuer.
I agree there is a great deal of speculation, along with a lot of personal baggage, in decisions to euthanize debilitated wild animals. I think we rescuers make judgment calls on the level of pain and suffering an animal is experiencing, or may experience, not necessarily based on science but more from our personal, anthropocentric views on life and death and what we think it is to suffer. I do believe facts are considered though—facts surrounding an animal’s ability to survive.
Far too often, rescued wild animals are euthanized because they have a major impairment; for example, a missing foot on a bird. One-legged, one-footed birds can and do survive. Such handicapped animals must be granted the right to freedom and the opportunity to survive, even if it’s just for a little while. I would much rather know that an animal was given a chance to live, even if it is predated on shortly thereafter. That, to me, is far more respectful than being saved by the rescuer only to be destroyed, usually with a compound that renders its poor body useless.
Thanks to Morris for also pointing out how cruel and disrespectful captivity can be for a wild animal. I wish more rescuers would understand that their wild patients do not know they are trying to help.
As for his thoughts about the eagle surviving, while I believe that would have been unlikely, it does bring up the evolutionary impacts we may have. Though an animal that survives debilitating trauma and procreates will not pass on its survival skills at the genetic level, animals that do survive diseases, toxins, and environmental changes may pass on their strengths. That said, are we rescuers not weakening the gene pool by assisting animals weakened by, let’s say, a major climatic event? Perhaps. But there so are many individuals we never have the chance to help that die from treatable injuries caused by man, I think it’s a wash.
I hope the thought-provoking commentary by Morris will encourage rehabilitators and governing agencies to fine-tune existing policies. I hope it will inspire rescuers to consider letting animals have a chance to live free, even if it’s only for a little while.