"Mercy" killing of a dying animal - moral doubts

General discussion, particularly exploring the Dharma in the modern world.
[N.B. This is the forum that was called ‘Exploring Buddhism’. The new name simply describes it better.]
Post Reply
Posts: 17
Joined: Thu Mar 01, 2018 6:25 pm

"Mercy" killing of a dying animal - moral doubts

Post by tenyang » Mon Apr 23, 2018 11:38 am

A few weeks ago I was staying at my mother's place. Two couples of barn swallows had built their respective nests in the garage (there's a large opening they fly through to get inside), but one afternoon I found one of them lying on the ground, severely injured. I took it inside and fixed up a makeshift nest for it inside a bird cage my mother keeps for such emergencies. I spent perhaps a couple of hours with the swallow. The vet was closed and unavailable, so I cleaned up its wounds and realised how serious they were: not only was one wing broken but on the bird's side there was a large open wound as if the bird had been mauled by a predator. I tried to provide the bird with whatever comfort I could, but I understood it was dying. I chanted the Om Mani Padme Hum mantra for it for a while. By the time my mother returned, the bird breathing was laboured and its eyes closed. She asked me about its conditions and I said I thought it wouldn't make it. I told her about the wounds, stated the facts. I knew these news would sadden her, but I didn't want to lie and give her false hopes.

My mother has tried all my life to persuade me that a "mercy" killing is an act of compassion. While her intentions are motivated by compassion and just like her I do not want another being to suffer, I'm not sure what I should do in such circumstances and still refuse to take a life, even if, as she puts it, it's only to "speed up" the process for a being who is already dying so as to shorten its suffering.

She took the swallow to the garage, away from me (out of respect for my vows and views) to kill it, and then prepared a safe place for the body to be left undisturbed.

But part of me thinks this was even worse, because this way I'm responsible not only for causing the bird's death but also for my mother's act of killing it (because she did so because I wouldn't do it).

What are your views on this? Thanks in advance and I apologise if the content of this post may be distressing.

User avatar
Kunga Lhadzom
Posts: 1458
Joined: Sat Jan 30, 2010 2:01 am

Re: "Mercy" killing of a dying animal - moral doubts

Post by Kunga Lhadzom » Mon Apr 23, 2018 4:10 pm

I think it's an act of compassion to put it out of its misery.

If I get old & suffer from horrible pain (although it's my kama to suffer ), i would want the option of euthanasia, instead of suffering to death.
The Universe flowing through my veins...stars falling from my eyes......rocks rolling in my head...lemon juice dripping down my chin....


Posts: 17
Joined: Thu Mar 01, 2018 6:25 pm

Re: "Mercy" killing of a dying animal - moral doubts

Post by tenyang » Tue May 01, 2018 11:20 am

Thanks for taking the time to post your point of view, Kunga Lhadzom.

There have been a lot of views on this thread (despite no more answers), so here is something I found that might interest those who open it: Lama Zopa on animal euthanasia.

Posts: 132
Joined: Wed Nov 02, 2016 4:40 am

Re: "Mercy" killing of a dying animal - moral doubts

Post by Marc » Tue May 01, 2018 12:20 pm

This is of course a very difficult and painful situation.  

I personnally find Ajahn Thanissaro Bikkhu's point of view (though Theravadin) quite compelling:

Unless endowed with the super-knowledge that allows to see the karma of beings, we have absolutely no idea what awaits beings after death. However painful their life may currently be, their rebirth may be in even worse conditions and foster even greater sufferings.

What is certain however, even from our limited scope of knowledge and perception, is that the first precept (not killing) would have been breeched.  Therefore from that point of view, this is a "no-go". It would not truly be an act of compassion, but only a way to ease one's discomfort in the face of others' suffering.

Hard truth indeed. But to the point it seem.

Anyone here has some authoritative Mahayana scriptures at hand to shed on light on these matters ?

User avatar
Posts: 617
Joined: Tue Apr 07, 2009 5:22 pm
Location: East Coast of Canada

Re: "Mercy" killing of a dying animal - moral doubts

Post by KathyLauren » Tue May 01, 2018 1:45 pm

I do not think the prohibition on killing is absolute. It may be close to absolute, but not quite there.

It is true that we have no knowledge of what awaits another being after death. But whatever awaits it, we do not have the ability to influence it. You can't alter another being's karma. So what awaits it is out of the equation. The bird was going to leave this life soon for whatever future awaits it regardless.

Whether or not "mercy killing" actually helps that sentient being in the long run is something we cannot know. I think this is what Marc is saying. But we do know that we are ending THIS suffering.

So maybe it is a bit unskillful to take a short-term action when we do not know the long-term consequences. But that is a long way from saying that it is not an act of compassion. It is true that one must be vigilant that it is the other sentient being's suffering that we are attempting to address, not our own. We should not kill another being in order to put it out of OUR misery.

But, unlike trying to discern another being's fate in its next life, distinguishing concern for our own discomfort from compassion for another being's suffering does not take superhuman ability. It just takes some basic self-awareness.

The most I will say against mercy killing is that it may be unskillful. But I would never judge another person's compassion. And I will try to use as much self-awareness as I can when I am in that situation, to ensure that my compassion is real. As a pet owner, the situation is real for me.

Om mani padme hum

Post Reply

Return to “Dharma in Everyday Life”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Google [Bot] and 40 guests