Friday, December 7, 2012

Jessica Pierce's "The Last Walk"

Jessica Pierce has taught and written about philosophy for many years. She is the author of a number of books, including Morality Play: Case Studies in Ethics and The Last Walk: Reflections on Our Pets at the End of Their Lives.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Last Walk and reported the following:
Page 99 finds us in the middle of chapter 4, which is called “Pain.” Pain is a subject that could fill several Libraries of Congress; in my chapter, the agenda is to talk specifically about the pain experienced by animals—especially companion animals, with an eye toward how we can ensure that our pets don’t suffer at the end of life. One of the most important things we can to do improve animal welfare generally, and improve the lives of companion animals, is to pay careful attention to pain. Undertreated or untreated pain is epidemic among animals, even though good palliative care is available and relatively affordable. Still, although it is easy to agree that we should attend to pain in our animals, treating pain is tricky. Managing pain well takes determination and effort, and close collaboration between veterinarian and pet guardian.

By the time we reach page 99, I’ve set forth the scientific case for animal pain—and not just nociception (the physiological response to tissue damage), but the conscious perception of pain as an unpleasant emotional experience. You might think this point needs little in the way of proof, but you’d be surprised how much “pain skepticism” still pervades animal science. I’ve touched on which animals can experience pain: mammals, certainly, but also birds and fish and perhaps even some invertebrates (the jury is still out on lobsters and crabs). I’ve also talked about the difference between pain and the broader category of “suffering.” On page 99, I am in the middle of a discussion about how, exactly, we can begin to understand and measure pain in our companion animals, particularly if we take our own human experiences of pain as a starting point. I talk about “translational pain medicine,” which seeks to translate animal pain research, usually performed on rodents, into human clinical practices. And I explain that pain responses are highly individualized and will vary not just by species, but also by gender, age, past experiences, and personality.

The last paragraph of the page delves into somewhat more tentative speculations about pain in animals.
Although we might assume that the greater complexity of the human mind means that we will suffer more deeply from pain than other, less complex animals, this may not be true. Consider the following observations, from a scientist, a veterinarian, and a philosopher. Our scientist notes that the adrenal response to stress is more pronounced in animals than it is in people. Why? It may be because people can deal with stressful situations using psychological tools that animals lack—for example, we can understand why we’re being poked with a needle. Our veterinarian suggests that animals may suffer more severely from pain than people. Pain, he says, is divided into a sensory-discriminative dimension and a motivational-affective dimension, and since animals are more limited in the first dimension, they may have more pronounced reaction in the second dimension. And finally, our philosopher points out, “If animals are indeed… inexorably locked into what is happening now, we are all the more obliged to try to relieve their suffering, since they themselves cannot look forward to or anticipate its cessation, or even remember, however dimly, its absence... If they are in pain, their whole universe is pain; there is no horizon; they are their pain.”
Learn more about The Last Walk: Reflections on Our Pets at the Ends of Their Lives at Jessica Pierce's website and blog.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Jessica Pierce and Maya.

Writers Read: Jessica Pierce.

--Marshal Zeringue