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TRANSCRIPT: How should Christians respond when animals are viewed as children?

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May 8, 2015

Daniel Patterson: Welcome back to the Questions and Ethics program with Russell Moore. I am here with Dr. Moore this morning and he has an interesting question for us today.

Russell Moore: You know, I was talking to a couple of veterinarians the other day, Daniel, and they were at the Gospel Coalition meeting, and they said we have an ethical question for you. They said we are veterinarians. We are Christians. And we have a lot of people who come in and they have a dog or a cat and they are treating this pet like a child. And so, what they are wanting are really extensive medical procedures that these veterinarians said they really would be much better off euthanizing this pet rather than spending all of this money on that. And so, they said how do we handle this as Christians when we are working as veterinarians out there in the public square. I thought that was a really good question because it is true that we have a sort of downgrading of children in some parts of American culture, and with that comes a raising up of pets to the level of children.

And sometimes what I think we as Christians want to do when we see that sort of thing is to ridicule it. You know, I’ve seen people pushing baby strollers with Chihuahuas in the baby stroller and talking to those dogs as though they are children. I remember when Maria and I were adopting our first two kids and we were going overseas there was a woman who was also going to adopt and she kept talking about her four-year-old and sort of the way that she handled discipline with her four-year-old, and we listened to all of her parenting tips for half a day before we realized that her four-year-old was a border collie. And it didn’t even register with her at all.

And I think there’s a sense in which we can look at that and we can say now isn’t that ridiculous the way that people are wanting to treat pets as children? And in many cases it is. But in some cases I think what is happening is you have people who may have a genuine longing for children and the children aren’t there because of maybe they never married or they had infertility or something like that. And so, they are kind of putting those maternal or paternal drives toward this pet. And I think for the most part that can be harmless within the life of that person.

I think when it becomes more dangerous is when we have at a societal level people who are fearful of children or phobic of children and who are then wanting to transfer that to pets and to treat pets as though they were children. At the societal level, I think that becomes harmful.

At the level though of a veterinarian, I think that the veterinarian has a responsibility to someone that he is discipling—so if this were someone in a church context, someone that the veterinarian is leading to maturity in Christ, someone that you would have the sort of relationship with that you could give a word of counsel about something else—about marriage or about friendship or about a sin in that person’s life—then that would be the sort of relationship where I think you could offer a word of wisdom and say you know, I think maybe it would be better to euthanize this pet than to spend this amount of money on this procedure. But beyond that, I think as long as it’s not a procedure that’s morally problematic, morally unethical, then I don’t really think that a veterinarian ought to feel a burden of conscience simply because a patient or actually I guess a patient’s owner is spending money that you would not see as being the best stewardship of funds. You don’t have responsibility to do that.

I think where it would become unethical is if the veterinarian were preying upon people—and I’m sure that the temptation is there in any kind of business—to come in when you have someone who has a sick pet to come in and say you know, if you really love Fluffy, then what you are going to do is you are really going to get the liver transplant in order to do that. Or if you really care about Flossy, you are really going to want to come in and do this extensive back surgery for her. I think that would be wrong for a veterinarian to do that in the same way that it would be wrong for a funeral home owner to take advantage of a grieving widow by saying if you really care about your husband, you really want this high-level, top-of-the-line casket that that widow can’t afford.

But if you have people who are coming in and they are using their money in order to act more generously than you would act, but not in a way that’s going to prolong the suffering of this animal or treat this animal with cruelty, and it’s not the sort of relationship that you have where you could actually disciple and shape that person, then I don’t think there is a problem with a veterinarian doing those things.

Patterson: Thanks for joining the Questions and Ethics program. If you have a question that you would like Dr. Moore to answer, email it to [email protected]. Join us next time as we help you apply the gospel to the pressing issues of the day.

Russell Moore

Russell Moore is former President of the ERLC. He holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His latest book is The Courage to Stand: Facing Your Fear Without Losing Your Soul. His book, The Storm-Tossed Family: How the Cross Reshapes the Home, was named Christianity Today’s 2019 Book of the Year. … Read More