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article imageOp-Ed: Lycka the dog receives €3K human heart surgery – ethical issues

By JohnThomas Didymus     Dec 1, 2012 in Health
Lycka, a dog with a heart condition, will recieve care from human heart surgeons at a top Paris hospital after vets said they could not perform the operation. The decision has recieved criticism from those who say it puts animal needs ahead of human.
The Daily Mail reports that veterinary surgeons told the owner of the dog Christian Collin, that they could not perform the operation. According to doctors, the dog has a ruptured cardiac artery.
But instead of taking a decision to put the dog, reportedly in pain, to sleep, the veterinary surgeons at the Maison-Alfort, referred Lycka's case to surgeons at the Montsouris hospital in Paris's 14th arrondissement, where the surgeons, who normally perform surgeries on humans, said that with the technical expertise they have acquired from performing operations on human hearts, they were confident of success with Lycka.
The Telegraph reports that Orianne Vatin, spokesman for the French Society for the Protection of Animals, SPA, said: "This operation is not usually done on animals. So surgeons for humans will operate Lycka."
The surgeons agreed they would perform the operation without charging for the service, but the owner, Collin, was told he would need to pay the operation cost of €3,000 because, "the only technique that can save him uses cutting-edge technology and so is very costly."
However, Collin, who adopted the dog after he was abandoned at three months, is unemployed and unable to afford the bill.
According to the Daily Mail, the charity, the French Society for Protection of Animals (SPA), agreed to pay 70 percent of the bill. They launched a Facebook campaign to pay the balance of the sum.
The charity recently announced that it is close to raising the total sum, acknowledging that it has received support from members of the public.
The Daily Mail reports that SPA said that a man donated €300. The group expressed confidence that they would raise the rest of the money before the operation on December 20.
Critics attack animal activists
According to The Telegraph, the operation is usually only performed on humans. The decision to provide the dog with €3,000 free surgery at a high brow hospital has sparked controversy.
The Telegraph reports that Doctor Didier Ménard, who works in Franc-Moisin, an impoverished district of the Paris suburb Seine-Saint-Denis, and who sees humans in dire need of care die for lack of attention everyday, told Le Parisien: "I would like to think that I would have as much success if I needed a prosthesis for one of my patients. Lots of them lead dogs' lives."
He continued with restraint: "On a personal level, I understand this man's attachment to his dog and the fact that he wants to do everything to save it. But if you take a step back, you have to admit we live in a rather strange society."
"Dogs are pure at heart... humans scourge of the planet"
But dog lovers have responded to Doctor Didier Ménard with anger. According to the Daily Mail, a dog lover, commenting on Facebook, implied that dogs deserve better care than humans because they are more grateful. According to The Telegraph, the self-professed animal lover, Severine Vincent Arnaud, said "An animal is often more grateful than a human. Do people who don't love animals really love themselves?"
A debate also raged in the Daily Mail. An angry reader, Andy, from Edinburgh, ranted: "So now these ********** mutts get operated on by doctors. Get it right you ignorant dog lovers, dogs are ANIMALS..hospitals are reserved for HUMANS, you know people who pay taxes, people who make the world go round not stupid, dis loyal mutts who would attack anyone given half the chance."
A dog lover, Dave, from Brighton, responded: "What a sad excuse for a HUMAN you are. Is it any wonder that I give my spare money only to ANIMAL charities as I would not like it to be spent on helping something like YOU."
The debate provided some with the opportunity to express the misanthropy common in the animal activist fringe. Winston Smith, said: "The difference is dogs are pure at heart, humans are a scourge on the planet."
Lycka the Labrador
Lycka the Labrador
Lycka the dog deserves medical care but...
Divested of the sentimentalism that obscures issues on both sides of the debate, what should remain in focus is that specialist service, of the quality Lycka will receive, is always scarce relative to demand for it. The fact that there is no physical, visible queue at the door to the surgical theater in the high brow French hospital at which the dog will be operated, may foster the illusion expressed by a reader on the Daily Mail that "no person requiring heart surgery in France will lose out because of the surgeons helping one dog!"
The truth, however, is that there is always an invisible queue consisting of millions of humans who also need the attention but either have to wait on the queue to get it or simply can't join the queue because they can't afford it. The queue only happens to be more visible in poorer countries with low physician-population ratio. But it is always there. That is the consequence of the law of economic scarcity.
There is no hospital in the world in which bed spaces and skills of medical experts are not scarce relative to demand. Anyone may think that diverting the scarce resources of a top human hospital for Lycka does not deprive a human being somewhere of a chance to live, but doctors like Didier Ménard, who work in run-down hospitals among the impoverished of the world know better.
The opportunity cost, in economic theoretic terms, of providing highly skilled life saving human medical service for a Lycka is a human need, somewhere, forgone.
The division of labor in the provision of medical services between veterinary hospitals and human hospitals is not by chance. It is the consequence of the economic fact of scarcity and the resulting need to prioritize in allocation of scarce resources.
In a world of essential economic scarcity such as ours, humans should compete with humans for the human surgical theater, and dogs with dogs for the veterinary surgical theater.
Dogs deserve medical care like humans, no doubt, but something fundamental has gone wrong in the moral-ethical dimension, as well as in prioritization for allocation of scarce resources, when a dog is allowed to jump a queue of humans to a surgical theater for humans. It is a demonstration of the moral-ethical confusion and disorientation of popular animal activism, especially in the situation in which the dog owner is not paying for the highly valued specialist service of the surgeons.
The morally and ethically balanced thing to do, in the situation in which veterinary service providers are unable provide the much needed service for the dog, is that the poor animal should be gently and humanely put to sleep, if or when necessary. Such tough decisions are taken everyday for humans, and beside the often misguided sentimentalism of the animal activist fringe, there is no compelling moral-ethical argument in support of exempting Lycka.
But from the perspective of a citizen of a "Third World" country, as this writer, attitudes in the West reflect the reordering of priorities consequent to advanced affluence and material needs satiation of citizens.
Can anyone imagine citizens of Malawi, with a physician-population ratio of 4 to 100,000 (2007), debating who should get to the operating theater first, a dog or a human child?
We Africans love our animals too, but the pressing realities of our circumstances force more logical and ethically balanced decision-making in this particular type of situation.
Being a citizen of a relatively affluent country is not an excuse to allow your moral-ethical compass go haywire.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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