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Euthanasia (Killing Your Fish)

Contents:

  1. Euthanasia article in AFM (LONG: 18k!)
    by John Opsomer <jo14/cornell.edu> (29 Sep 1993)
  2. RE: Euthanasia
    by "Beaudry, Kyle : SEN" <KBEAUDRY/SEN.PARL.GC.CA> (Fri, 31 Mar 2000)

Euthanasia article in AFM (LONG: 18k!)

by John Opsomer <jo14/cornell.edu>
Date: 29 Sep 1993
Newsgroup: rec.aquaria

What follows here is a reposting of a discussion I have had with Edward
Bauman, editor of AFM, and Christopher Higgins, author of an article in
the November (!) issue.  The article is entitled "Aquarium Fish
Euthanasia" and since I am not allowed to reproduce it here (the author
doesn't mind, but AFM does), I'll have to briefly summarize it.  Of
course, you could also go to your favorite library and borrow it...

The article discusses the most commonly used methods for getting rid of
fish: freezing, chemical euthanasia, feeding to larger fish, flushing
down the toilet (!), striking, donation for research.  In each case, it
describes the pros and cons, including convenience and humaneness.  So
far, so good.  It provides useful information and would have been a great
addition to a discussion between Oleg Kiselev and George Booth a few
months back :-) Unfortunately, the article ends with a conclusion which
undoes a lot of  the good stuff in the rest of the article and prompted
us (=my wife and me) to contact AFM.  The real culprit (in our eyes) was
the following sentence: "The fact that some methods are viewed as more
humane than others is mostly academic.  They all work, and it's not
possible to imply that one method is the best."  (Remember, the methods
include flushing!)

We also objected to the reason stated as to why the humaneness of the
methods is only an academic issue: "For that matter, no one definitely
knows whether fish can feel pain or not.  It is obvious that they respond
to stimuli, but the question of whether that nervous response is
attributable to instinct or the fish is actually feeling pain is still
open to debate."

OK, so much for background.  What follows are the 6 e-mails sent by the
different concerned parties.  It's somewhat long but I hope it will be of
interest to at least some of you.  Obviously, we didn't come to any kind
of agreement, as apparently Edward Bauman was not getting the point of
what we were trying to say.  Oh, one last thing, in case you're
interested: AFM's e-mail address is 76107.460-at-compuserve.com and
Christopher Higgins' is 71150.463-at-compuserve.com.

Have fun with it,

John Opsomer



LETTER 1:

Dear AFM:

We would like to comment on the article "Aquarium Fish Euthanasia" by
Christopher Higgins.  As the author said in his introduction, it is not
an easy topic to find information on, and we are grateful that AFM
addressed it.  The article itself is informative and gives an objective
assessment of the pros and cons of different methods.  However, we were
very surprised by the conclusion of the article, in which the author
makes some very biased and offensive comments.  Firstly, he says: "the
fact that some [euthanasia] methods are viewed as more humane than others
is mostly academic."  ACADEMIC?  To anyone concerned about his/her fish's
well-being, shouldn't the "humaneness" of the method be an overriding
consideration?  If flushing a fish down the toilet is just as acceptable
as the other methods described, why even bother with an article about
euthanasia?

Yet Mr. Higgins goes even further, stating that "no one definitely knows
whether fish feel pain or not ... [because] the question of whether
nervous response [=pain] is attributable to instinct or the fish is
actually feeling pain is still open to debate."  Not only is this comment
shocking, it displays a appalling lack of understanding about what pain
is.  While humans are able to feel a wider range of EMOTIONS than fish,
physical pain both in humans and fish is strictly an INSTINCTIVE nervous
response intended to make us avoid the source of pain.  Humans are better
able to express our pain (shouting, crying, etc...), but pain is pain,
and it seems obvious to anyone who stops to think about it that a fish
flushed down the toilet suffers.  And even if Mr. Higgins' comment about
the fact that no one knows whether fish feel pain were true, wouldn't it
be better to err on the side of sympathy and assume that fish might
indeed feel pain?   Saying that fish don't feel pain is simply a
convenient excuse for not having to care about what we do to them.

Mr. Higgins' callous comments are unfortunately typical of a number of
hobbyists who look at their fish strictly as objects, on the same level
as their furniture or kitchenware.  Instead, fish are just as alive and
valuable as our other pets (like cats or dogs) and deserve every bit as
much respect from their owners.  The fact that a magazine devoted to the
aquarium hobby actually condones the view of "fish-as-objects" is simply
unacceptable.

The above represents our "official" letter to your magazine, which you
can feel free to abbreviate and include in a future issue of your
magazine.  We are deeply shocked by the fact that your editorial staff
let this "conclusion" to an otherwise good article be published and
assume that we will not be your only readers who are upset by it.  As
several discussions in the *.aquaria newsgroups on Internet have shown, a
growing number of hobbyists have no tolerance for the infliction of
needless suffering on fish.  The most recent example is the decision by
many participants in those newsgroups to stop ordering from the mailorder
company That Fish Place because they sell "painted glassfish."

Before we discuss this article on the *.aquaria newsgroups, we would like
to hear your opinion about this matter as soon as possible (by e-mail:
opsomer-at-orie.cornell.edu) and would appreciate some sort of public
response from your magazine and preferably also the author of the
article.  

Thank you for your cooperation in this matter.  We look forward to
hearing from you soon.

John and Carolyn Opsomer

cc: Christopher Higgins

LETTER 2:

~Date: 26 Sep 93 18:02:11 EDT
~From: Chris Higgins <71150.463-at-compuserve.com>
To: BlindCopyReceiver:;
~Subject: Aquarium Fish Euthanasia

Dear John and Carolyn:

I am somewhat surprised at your reaction to my latest article in _AFM_. 
I am sorry that my statements, which are quite neutral in nature, have
bothered you to such a degree.  I will attempt to explain my position. 
Keep in mind, however, that I am NOT a person who enjoys argument.  I
find arguments ineffective and tiresome, and I have an exceptionally poor
temper when speaking in person.  I will always make all attempts to cover
all sides of an issue, or lacking that, to take the most neutral possible
position if I simply must argue (as in this case).

The conclusion of my article may be perceived as cold or inhuman. 
Certainly it is.  I simply cannot compromise such an article by injecting
emotion into it.  My writing was slightly edited in other parts of the
article, perhaps to change the tone of the article slightly.  However, I
stand behind the finished product and it is no fault of the editors of
_AFM_ that the article is as it is.

I personally do not regard my fish as objects.  I do not regard my cats
as objects.  I do not identify any more with my cats than with my fish,
much as you may wish to believe.  Just because an animal is not "pettable
and friendly" does not mean that I lack emotional attachment to it.  It
is detestable to think that aquarists might consider their fish as
objects to live and die at the whim of their "owners."  The purpose of my
article was to display all the alternatives, without bias, and let the
aquarist make their own conclusion.  Obviously your conclusion as to what
to do with your fish involves a very humane method.  Your choice.  My
method is the instant-shock freezing method (a very humane method lacking
the funds to use a tranquilizer) although I do admit that long ago in
ignorance I flushed goldfish when they got sick.  I knew no better, and
few people do!  So I wrote the article in full knowledge that if an
aquarist did not care about the possibility that their fish felt pain,
that I could certainly not convince them to.  Maybe you would like to
try.  If so, I encourage you to try to sell such an article to an
unbiased magazine with such a broad, well-read audience as that of
_Aquarium Fish_.

Your comments in the paragraph beginning "Yet Mr. Higgins goes even
further..." are in my opinion unfounded.  As soon as you or anyone else
will prove to me that fish do feel pain/emotion, then I will revise my
views and continue with my life.  Have you conducted any research to
these ends?  I would be interested to know if you had, since I looked for
such research in researching the article and found none.  Your comment
"it seems obvious to anyone who stops to think about it that a fish
flushed down the toilet suffers," is very insightful.  Of course, if
anyone stops to think about it and they have some sort of compassion,
they will realize that.  However, many people never do stop to think
about what they are doing.  Hopefully my article made those people think
and consider their opinions.  I cannot pass judgements on whatever choice
they make, though.

I have no right to impose my own values on anyone else.  In my opinion,
neither do you or anyone else.  Therefore, I left the decision of
euthenasia up to the aquarist.  Apparently you feel differently.  I
encourage to make your case to the thinking public, and let them make
their own decisions.  I refuse to become embroiled in a sentimental
argument such as this.  If you choose to discuss this matter on the
Internet, I implore you as one thinking human being to another to post
this message in its entirety as well as yours to me before you begin the
debate.  I do not have access to Internet except for EMail through the
CompuServe gateway (which, by the way, I pay for), so I cannot respond to
discussions unless they are addressed to me and sent by EMail.  If I am
deluged by these messages I will simply attempt to publish a letter to
the editor in _AFM_ making my case and hopefully leave it at that.

If you care to continue communication, please do.  If your intent is to
degrade my article, merely a collection of information, please don't try
to discuss it with me.  I will change my opinions on fish feeling pain as
soon as I see conclusive proof.  Please inform me of same if you come
across it.

;Christopher Higgins

cc: Edward Bauman, editor of _AFM_

LETTER 3:

~Date: 27 Sep 93 11:12:49 EDT
~From: Edward Bauman <76107.460-at-compuserve.com>
To: <opsomer-at-orie.cornell.edu>
~Subject: Aquarium Fish Euthanasia

While the concerns noted in your message are very good, I think you may
be overreacting to the "tone" of the article's conclusion.  The question
of "pain" in various life forms is far from decided, and the author was
not incorrect in noting this fact.  Thus, the method chosen to euthanize
a fish should be the one that best fits the capability of the fishkeeper
and the circumstances involved.

You do not make any distinction between the pain of long-term suffering
versus the pain that might occur as a result of euthanization.  What does
"needless suffering" really mean?   It is a relativistic concept that
does not lend itself to easy definition.  As such, the method used to
kill a dying fish really _is_ academic if it is done as quickly and
humanely as possible.

Let's try to avoid anthropomorphy.  Humans are ill-equipped to judge what
the reactions of many life forms represent.  I might also note that the
article specifically advised against flushing fish down a toilet, and
emphasized the suffering the fish would likely experience.

Your charge that _AFM_ condones a "fish-as-objects" perspective is
without merit.  Even a cursory reading of the magazine makes such an
accusation ludicrous.  Millions of fish die every year at the hands of
hobbyists, and _AFM_ has gone to great lengths to help aquarists avoid
this from happening to them.

Finally, while we appreciate your concerns about painted glassfish, which
we share, we do not condone boycotting dealers who sell them.  It is
better in the long run to educate people not to purchase such fish.  The
dealer will not order fish that do not sell.

Your comments are appreciated.  We certainly want to know what readers
think of the features and departments in the magazine.  However, we stand
by the author on this article and believe he handled this delicate topic
in a thoughtful and sensitive manner.

The author has corresponded with you -- we have a copy of his email. 
Inasmuch as we have access to the *.aquaria groups, we shall be
monitoring any discussion of this matter.  Please feel free to contact us
at any time.

Edward Bauman
Editor
Aquarium Fish Magazine

LETTER 4:

To: AFM
~From: opsomer-at-orie.cornell.edu (John Opsomer)
~Subject: Re: Aquarium Fish Euthanasia
Cc: Chris Higgins <71150.463-at-compuserve.com>

Dear Mr. Bauman:

Thank you for your speedy reply. While we do not intend to start a
lengthy argument about this issue (since, as you know, it involves
ethical decisions, which are always hard to agree on), we have a few
comments about your response: 

>... the method used to kill a
>dying fish really _is_ academic *IF* it is done as quickly and humanely
as possible. 

We COMPLETELY AGREE with the above statement, which is VERY different
from the one in the article, which read: "the fact that some methods are
MORE HUMANE than others is mostly academic". In the article, the
impression is given that the "humaneness" of the treatment is not
important, which is exactly the point to which we are objecting. If it
had been stated as you have above, we would have had no problem with the
article as a whole. 

>Let's try to avoid anthropomorphy. Humans are ill-equipped to judge what
the reactions of many life forms represent. I might also note that the
article specifically advised against flushing fish down a toilet, and
emphasized the suffering the fish would likely experience. 

Yes, but again: in the conclusion the author states that the humaneness
of the treatment doesn't matter! Basically, there are two ways to look at
the issue of fish feeling pain: if science can't decide the issue, saying
that they don't IS JUST AS BIASED as saying they do (it just happens to
appear more "objective" in our society). Both are value judgments and we
accept the latter, while the author in his conclusion apparently prefers
the former. Neither view is truly objective, but dismissing the humane
nature of a treatment as secondary is offensive to people who would
rather not inflict "instinctive nervous responses" on their fish. 

>Your charge that _AFM_ condones a "fish-as-objects" perspective is
without merit. Even a cursory reading of the magazine makes such an
accusation ludicrous. Millions of fish die every year at the hands of
hobbyists, and _AFM_ has gone to great lengths to help aquarists avoid
this from happening to them.

That is why we were so surprised in this case! 

>The author has corresponded with you -- we have a copy of his email.
Inasmuch as we have access to the *.aquaria groups, we shall be
monitoring any discussion of this matter. Please feel free to contact us
at any time. 

We indeed intend to discuss this on the Net. The best way to do this, if
you agree, is to describe the article, quoting the conclusion in its
entirety (for which we need your permission) and then add our three
letters. After that, it's the usual free-for-all... 

John and Carolyn Opsomer

cc: Chris Higgins

LETTER 5:

~Date: 27 Sep 93 21:09:53 EDT
~From: Chris Higgins <71150.463-at-compuserve.com>
To: BlindCopyReceiver:;
~Subject: Re: Aquarium Fish Euthanasia

John and Carolyn,

I must say that I object to your comment "the author...apparently prefers
the latter [inhumane killing]."  No.  I made no judgement either way and
I regret that your understanding of my words differs from mine.  In case
you care, I happen to be a vegetarian, not desiring to needlessly kill
animals for my consumption.  How, then, do you come to the conclusion
that I think that killing animals (and yes, fish are included in that
group) is all right?  I do not try to impose or even advertise my views
to the world, which is why I didn't disclose this long-standing fact to
you until now.  I hope that maybe you will realize that I did not intend
to condone the inhumane killing of fish, but that I hoped to allow the
reading public to make a more informed decision on their own.

Please post this message as well, in the sequence of others, on the
Internet.  Also, I give my permission to post the article IN ITS ENTIRETY
on the board with no typos as the text stands in _AFM_.  You may not post
merely the conclusion as many quotes can be easily made misleading when
taken out of context.  If you choose to post the article, you must also
include a statement to the effect that I still hold the copyright to my
"Aquarium Fish Euthenasia" article and that no one else has a right to
re-post or re-publish any portion of it except in the context of a reply
to a message with the entire article posted therein.  I'm sorry if this
seems unfair, but the article must stand on its own merits (and I believe
that it does), without any "quoting" or "cropping" done to it.  Also
please make sure that Edward Bauman approves, as he may have a say in the
re-posting of the article.

;Christopher Higgins

cc: Edward Bauman

LETTER 6:

~Date: 28 Sep 93 10:37:30 EDT
~From: Edward Bauman <76107.460-at-compuserve.com>
To: <opsomer-at-orie.cornell.edu>
~Subject: Re: Aquarium Fish Euthanasia

I see that we are now down to degrees of meaning, which is certainly
progress.  I should mention that we've received no feedback ourselves on
this article, but the author has received several compliments from
Fishnet and Internet readers.

I believe the point about the humaneness by the author is fairly clear
when taken in context with the article.  He certainly does not advocate
methods that are not humane, and within the range of suggestions that he
does make, all would be considered acceptable.

While I have no objection to your quoting from the article per se, in all
fairness to the author and the magazine, simply reproducing the
conclusion itself alters significantly the meaning of the conclusion,
which is meant to be read in the context of the article itself. 
Therefore, I suggest that you first have interested parties read the
article before opening any discussion about it.

                     --ed


RE: Euthanasia

by "Beaudry, Kyle : SEN" <KBEAUDRY/SEN.PARL.GC.CA>
Date: Fri, 31 Mar 2000
To: "'apisto/majordomo.pobox.com'" <apisto/majordomo.pobox.com>

This topic has been bandied about on all the lists and newsgroups I've
lurked in the past and it seems that all the same suggestions come up at one
point or another so I will share the one I found and use.

When required to put a fish down I fill a bowl with the coldest water I can
and then add ten ice cubes when the water is cold enough to give me an "Ice
Cream Headache" I gingerly drop the fish into the water. Every time I have
used this method, the fish never lasts more than a second. They "belly-up"
the instant they submerge. The freezer trick seems too slow to me, after all
we are looking for quick and painless. When we consider that transferring a
fish to a tank with a different temperature, we go to great lengths to
ensure that the temperature change is a slow as possible so as not to stress
the fish. Think of the fish in the bag of water with the temperature
dropping by two or three degrees every minute all the time sufferring the
stress that we have spent its life doing our best to prevent and after maybe
ten or fifteen minutes, finally succumbing to body failure and dying.
Probably painless, but seemingly stressfull nonetheless.

For the bigger fish, the knife and off with the head seems the quickest most
painless way for a fish to go.  Probably not the most aesthetically
pleasing, but we must consider that we are doing this for the comfort of the
fish, not our own. And, as one of the previous posters so eloquently put it:
"If we are going to keep fish, we have to face and accept the reality that
we may, at one point or another, have to put a fish down."

Good day to all.
Kyle

> -----Original Message-----
> From:	Phil Eaton [SMTP:peaton@hotmail.com]
> Sent:	Thursday, March 30, 2000 11:19 PM
> To:	apisto@majordomo.pobox.com
> Subject:	Re: Euthanasia
> 
> I was visiting a Vet's office to pick up a special order of Levamisol HCl,
> 
> and had a nice conversation with him while I was there.  He mentioned that
> 
> the only thing he knew about fish was how to anesthetise (sp) them, and
> that 
> only because it was on the exam!  They would use Hydrogen Peroxide, if I
> am 
> remembering correctly, it caused the fish the least amount of stress
> before 
> any medical procedure.
> 
> Perhaps there is someone that would know "the rest of the story" and  know
> 
> the dosages to "put the fish to sleep" before doing the final deed.
> 
> Myself, I have put them in the freezer as well...
> 
> Phil
> ______________________________________________________
> Get Your Private, Free Email at http://www.hotmail.com
> 
> 
> 
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