Every now and then the biomedical community and the legal system are presented with the opportunity to rediscover our collective humanity through the lens of animal rights and animal cruelty. More often than not that lens has insufficient power to correct their distorted perception of human dignity. Having just passed the ninth anniversary of Terri Schiavo’s death by starvation and dehydration, word comes today of the starvation and dehydration death of Roxy the dog, a boxer in England, who died at the hands of his solicitor-in-training owner, Katy Gammon.
Ms. Gammon has been in the employ of a law firm specializing in……
It seems that Ms. Gammon retained Roxy who originally belonged to a boyfriend after the relationship ended. The dog was kept locked in the kitchen because it wasn’t housebroken. All was well until Gammon began staying with her mother a few blocks away and stopped coming to feed the dog after she injured her knee. A window into the collective soul from MailOnline :
Bristol Magistrates’ Court had previously heard that Gammon had confined the dog by tying a rope to the kitchen door handle and fixing it to a hook in the hall.
Roxy had frantically clawed at the door, leaving fragments on the floor, as she tried to escape before her death, which would have taken around six days…
Asked if she had deliberately locked her in the kitchen and left her to die, Gammon replied: ‘Yes, basically.’
The article continues with a description of what Roxy’s death was probably like. At this juncture it is worth noting that humans and dogs have very similar anatomy and physiology, and that dog experimentation has often been the last step before human trials of new medicines and medical treatments, because of our shared similarities. More from the article:
A vet said the pet would have taken up to six days to die gradually and painfully, becoming blind and falling into a coma before passing away…
‘A number of items had desperately been pulled out of cupboards. We believe this was a desperate attempt at searching for food or water.
‘Roxy suffered a slow, painful death which could have been prevented.’
And so it goes with human beings who are deprived of food and hydration as a means of hastening death. It is a slow and agonizing demise, as Roxy’s story indicates. Often the patient is unresponsive, but as the parent of any teenager knows, lack of responsiveness does not indicate a lack of sensory reception, or internal processing. Terri Schiavo was perhaps the most publicized case of the Roxys of our species.
However, shared physiology is where our paths diverge. Lower animals now possess greater dignity (from the Latin, meaning “standing”) in western jurisprudence than human beings. Consider the words of the sentencing magistrate as Gammon received 18 weeks in jail, and a lifetime ban on owning pets, for her crime:
Sentencing, magistrate Rod Mayall said: ‘You have shown limited remorse. You failed to behave as any normal person would have. This is the most serious case of animal cruelty encountered in these courts.’
And here is where the magistrate misses the mark by a mile. Humans are also animals. Additionally, we are a higher order animal, capable of at least as much pain (physical state) as a dog, and perhaps even more suffering (a psychological state). If this is the worst case of animal cruelty he has seen before the court, then it is because humans have lost their standing in the very courts they have created. Gammon has been sentenced to jail and a lifetime ban from owning pets so that she may never again be in a position to practice such barbarism. That’s a good thing.
However human beings who, on a daily basis, pull members of their own species apart, limb-by-limb, in the womb, and who similarly starve and dehydrate members of our own species to death do so with government-issued licenses and are considered practitioners in good standing.
The outrage in all of this isn’t that Gammon was punished for her crime against Roxy, it’s that the deaths of the Terri Schiavo’s among us aren’t considered criminal at all. It is that our legislators and judges do not, “behave as any normal person would have,” protecting humans with the same ferocity as they would if the subject in consideration were a dog.
The greatest tragedy of all is that humans have a long way to go before we enjoy equal dignity, equal standing with our pets in a court of law.