Euthanasia of healthy animals understandably evokes emotion-laden responses.  The overriding ethical issue is whether the premature life-ending procedure is a justifiable alternative to slaughter.  Is euthanasia the better choice from two bad options?

The Humane Society of the United States has taken unequivocal stances on both slaughter and euthanasia:  “Horse slaughter is a cruel, predatory practice” and “The humane euthanasia of animals has been acknowledged by a majority of animal protection organizations, including The HSUS, as an appropriate means of ending the suffering of animals in physical distress….and to end the lives of animals who have severe behavioral problems…”  Still, neither statement gives unambiguous guidance to horse owners struggling to decide if euthanasia is a morally defensible means to circumvent their horses ever going to slaughter, especially for a vigorous animal for which a good home ostensibly can’t be found.

In 2013, the American Veterinary Medical Association issued a 100-page document titled Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals in which it stated:  “AVMA policy supports the use of animals for various human purposes, and also recognizes the need to euthanize animals that are unwanted or unfit for adoption.”

Yet equine veterinarians don’t agree among themselves about acceptable end-of-life procedures.  To illustrate, Veterinarians for Equine Welfare is categorical in its stance:  “horse slaughter is inhumane, and …is an unacceptable way to end a horse’s life under any circumstance.  We believe that it is an unethical and dangerous practice for the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) to attempt to equate horse slaughter with humane euthanasia.”

Individual horse owners are left to determine for themselves if it is the right course of action to euthanize a healthy animal rather than risk selling or giving it away.  For instance, as for risk, a slaughterhouse buyer may use an intermediary to pose as a well-intentioned person looking to obtain an off-the-track Thoroughbred for a relative or friend.  Moreover, even a caring new home could turn out to be otherwise if the owner experiences financial hardship and becomes desperate to get out from under the expenses of maintaining the horse.

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