What does it mean to be humane?

What does it mean to be humane?

Apr 01, 2001

Confusion and misunderstanding often occur when two people attempt to communicate using two different languages.

More commonly, confusion arises when two people attempt to communicate using the same language, but are attaching a different meaning to what appears to be a universally accepted term.


With this thought in mind, how would you define the term "humane"? Can you state with a clear conscience that in your role as a provider of veterinary care that you are humane?

The term "humane" encompasses the best qualities of mankind. Examples of these qualities cited in Webster's Dictionary include kindness, tenderness and being considerate. Empathy and compassion could readily be added to this list of examples.

Whereas animals cannot act in a humane fashion, human beings can show tenderness, compassion and other humane qualities to other human and animal beings.

Behavior that is inhumane is lacking in compassion for the suffering of humans and animals. Synonyms of the term "inhumane" cited in Webster's Dictionary include unkindness and cruelty. In context of this discussion, a veterinary staff member (or owner) who deliberately chooses to disregard available means to reduce injury or illness of an animal under his or her care could be thought of as inhumane or, in some circumstances, even cruel.

What is cruelty?

How would you define the term "cruelty"? Webster's Dictionary definition of cruelty encompasses actions that are inhumane and without pity. The term pity encompasses having compassion for the suffering, distress or troubles of another. By definition, cruelty appears to be an act or motivation limited to mankind.

Whether an act is cruel depends not only on the act, but also on why or how it was done (e.g. what was the intent of the act?) It is of interest that one of the first anticruelty laws established in the USA was designed to protect animals (New York State Legislature, Anticruelty Act of 1828, Section 28).

The term "welfare" signifies a state of being or doing well. The concept of animal welfare has been traditionally founded on the premise that humans have an obligation to act humanely toward animals.

In context of this essay, animal welfare problems are most likely to encompass acts of omission rather than deliberate acts of cruelty.

Return to the theme question, "What does it mean to be humane?" Is there connection between being humane and the diagnosis and treatment of various diseases that affect animals? Although the answer to this question could fill a book, consider two applications that are presented in the form of questions.

Am I striving to provide the type of care that I would choose if I were this patient?

Based on knowledge of my own skill and experience, and the availability of support staff and equipment, would I consent to my proposed plan of diagnostic and therapeutic action if I were in this patient's exact situation? What diagnostic and/or therapeutic goals are likely to be achieved? In all probability will the overall benefits of this plan of action justify the associated risks and costs?

In providing care for my patients, have procedures been designed to avoid or minimize discomfort, distress and pain?

Unless the contrary has been established, veterinary staff members should consider that diagnostic and therapeutic procedures that cause pain discomfort, distress or pain in human beings may cause the same in animals.

Therefore, is there agreement by all concerned that procedures that cause more than momentary discomfort, distress or pain will be performed with the aid of appropriate sedation, analgesia or anesthesia? What approach to discomfort would I choose if I were in this patient's exact situation?

What does it mean to be humane?

The extent to which we are humane can only be measured by the action it prompts. To this end, we should take the initiative to put ourselves in others' shoes, paws, hooves or claws, so we can help them as we would want to be helped.