Animal Studies Bibliography
Kogure, Norio and Keiko Yamazaki. 1990. Attitudes to animal euthanasia in Japan: A brief review of cultural influences. Anthrozoos 3(3): 151-154.
Two surveys of Japanese veterinarians were combined to examine their attitudes toward euthanizing pets. 72 readers of a Japanese veterinary journal responded to Fogle & Abrahamson's pet loss survey in 1987, and in 1988, 4500 small-animal practitioners were surveyed and 2500 responses (56%) were collected. The results showed that Japanese vet were considerably more cautious about euthanizing animals than were British vets. Japanese vets were much less willing to euthanize a health animal at the owner's request, and even more notably, while 88% of British vets would euthanize a sick animal without the owner's permission, only 3% of Japanese vets would do so. These differences are not due to fear of legal battles by the Japanese vets, because Japan is not a litigious society. Further, although Buddhism prohibits taking life, it would be too simplistic to attribute the difference to Buddhism. Japanese attitudes are affected by Buddhist ideas, as well as by Shinto, Japan's nature-worshipping religion. Further, Japan's historical development in a land where villages had to conform to the spaces nature allowed meant that villages (rather than tribe or clan) were the center of social life and that there was no real boundary between settlement and nature. God or gods were conceived as a part of nature. Japan's history of agriculture connected it further to nature. Animals were central religious symbols and were considered the alter ego of the person worshipping them, which made killing an animal much more important and meaningful. This history is the first part of an explanation of Japanese vets' attitudes. Second, the Japanese fear death and the dead. Third, Shinto religion considers death something that causes impurity and is therefore something to avoid. Further, the cultural definition of cruelty affects vets and owners' views. In Japan, cruelty means that animals should be treated as alter egos and therefore should not have their lives taken from them. As a result of this belief, there are many stray animals in Japan, because owners prefer to set them loose than to euthanize them. In the West, on the other hand, cruelty involves denying the animal comfortable care, and if the animal is suffering, euthanasia is the desirable response. Europeans also have a history of livestock raising, which involves an ethic of great care for an animal (to make sure it develops right) and then killing the animal for use. The lack of livestock raising in Japan may explain the vets' difficulty dealing with euthanasia. Whatever the causes of either nation's views, both Japan and Western countries face problems of pet overpopulation, and as such euthanasia should be studied in various contexts so we can better understand the decision-making that surrounds it and the burden it places on vets as we search for ways to stop needing to use euthanasia at all.