<< AEDPA Deference | Main | Weekend Notes >>

Veterinary Misinformation


Capital Defense Weekly contends,

In an opinion out Wednesday, the Tennessee Attorney General has held that it is inappropriate to kill animals by the same lethal injection protocols used to kill people.

Nope. The opinion in question deals with intracardial injection, a method never used for execution of murderers in the United States, or anywhere else that I know of.
Update: CDW has this bizarre follow-up supposedly responding to the above yet making no mention of the holding of the AG opinion or intracardial injection and challenging me to retract a statement I didn't make. I decline.
Misuse of the American Veterinary Medical Association's Guidelines on Euthanasia by the anti crowd has been so rampant that the AVMA now has a red-type disclaimer on the cover noting how the guidelines are not pertinent to the debate. The text of the disclaimer is after the jump.

Caution - The AVMA Guidelines on Euthanasia (formerly the 2000 Report of the AVMA Panel on Euthanasia) have been widely misinterpreted. Please note the following:
• The guidelines are in no way intended to be used for human lethal injection.
• The application of a barbiturate, paralyzing agent, and potassium chloride delivered in separate syringes or stages (the common method used for human lethal injection) is not cited in the report.
• The report never mentions pancuronium bromide or Pavulon, the paralyzing agent used in human lethal injection.



Foul. Your comment isn't a fair response to the comment at CDW. True enough, the report says what it says on its face. On the other hand, when you review the information that is actually contained therein, it's pretty obvious that the procedures presently used in most states would and could never pass muster under the veterinary guidelines. Compare and consider, for example, the "captive bolt" penetration method of euthanizing animals. Even with that relatively gruesome procedure, the vets express great concern that the proper steps be followed so as to immediately extinguish consciousness -- a "luxury" not considered necessary in human LI executions.

This is a bit disingenuous. While the AVMA has (and should) disclaim any misconception that their guidelines apply to killing humans (this would be a gross ethical violation on their part were they to suggest that), it is clear that they show something very important: that euthanizing an animal in the manner in which the States kill humans would not be acceptable. And that should end the matter for rational people.

The AVMA lists "acceptable" and "conditionally acceptable" methods of euthanizing different kinds of animals. It defines "acceptable" methods as "those [methods] that consistently produce a humane death when used as the sole means of euthanasia." It defines "conditionally acceptable" methods as "those [methods] that by the nature of the technique or because of greater potential for operator error or safety hazards might not consistently produce humane death or are methods not well documented in the scientific literature."

With respect to a dog or cat, the AVMA provides that the use of barbiturates alone is an acceptable method of euthanasia. The report states, "Intravenous injection of a barbituric acid derivative is the preferred method for euthanasia of dogs, cats, other small animals, and horses." Further, "All barbituric acid derivatives used for anesthesia are acceptable for euthanasia when administered intravenously…. Desirable barbiturates are those that are potent, longacting, stable in solution, and inexpensive. Sodium pentobarbital best fits these criteria..."

The AVMA also finds the use of potassium chloride in conjunction with general anesthesia to be an acceptable method of euthanizing a dog or cat. But with respect to that, "It is of utmost importance that personnel performing this technique are trained and knowledgeable in anesthetic techniques, and are competent in assessing anesthetic depth appropriate for administration of potassium chloride intravenously. Administration of potassium chloride intravenously requires animals to be in a surgical plane of anesthesia characterized by loss of consciousness, loss of reflex muscle response, and loss of response to noxious stimuli." Nowhere does the AVMA list as an acceptable or even conditionally acceptable method a serial injection of a barbiturate, neuromuscular blocking agent, and potassium chloride.

The AVMA also lists acceptable methods for euthanizing a "nonhuman primate." The only method deemed "acceptable" for this is the administration of barbiturates alone. Even a rat could not be euthanized in a "conditionally acceptable" manner by the three-drug protocol the States use to dispatch humans.

Of course, the irony here is that, as veterinarians work scientifically to make the killing of animals as "humane" as possible by excluding from professional use "inhumane" euthanizing methods, lawyers, judges and biased advocates work rhetorically to find the killing of humans by those same unacceptable methods to be "humane." Orwell might ponder what the word humane even means now: that which is fit for an animal but not a human? Isn't it about time we flipped this world right-side up?

The CDW post does not purport to make the point that "Talking" makes, i.e., that the AG opinion contains information relevant to the debate. If it had said that, I might have posted a response or just let it pass. In fact, the CDW post claims, as the quote in the main post very clearly says, "the Tennessee Attorney General has held...."

For the nonlawyers in the audience, there is a big difference between the holding of a court case, or an AG opinion, and statements made in the course of reaching the holding, known in the trade as obiter dicta. The holding of this opinion relates only to intracardial injection. CDW's statement that it is on the same protocol used for the death penalty is false, and pointing that out is entirely fair, not "foul."

Regarding DK's comment, the AVMA lists "acceptable," "conditionally acceptable," and "unacceptable" methods, and the three-drug method (with pavulon) used for the death penalty is not on any of those lists. It is entirely appropriate, and not at all "disingenuous," for the AVMA to make that clear. The fact that a method is not listed among "acceptable" does not make it "unacceptable." It just isn't addressed at all.

Also worth noting is that millions of animals are routinely killed by methods that do not qualify for euthanasia when they are slaughtered for food. In Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520 (1992), the Supreme Court even found a First Amendment right to kill animals, and the method was not an approved method of euthanasia. It is not true that any method of killing an animal not approved for euthanasia by AVMA is not an allowed way to kill an animal in our society.

A veterinarian who must "put down" a family pet for reasons that are no fault of the animal has a duty to use a medical-type standard of care. That duty and the accompanying standards have little relevance to a procedure for the purpose of punishing a person for his voluntary choice to commit an especially heinous murder. While we should not use a cruel method for carrying out that punishment, neither should we be so squeamish as to insist that it be entirely painless.

Leave a comment

Monthly Archives