Elizabeth van Ekert
Sentient Associate Member
As the very proud mother of your founding president Katherine, I have watched over the years many of the struggles that student vets and new vets face when a dilemma catches them and choices have to be made that may affect the life of an animal, the happiness of a family, a farmer’s livelihood, that outrages their sense of morality and values or that threatens their own safety, wellbeing, job and sense of professionalism. How do such professionals, who see too much and know too much cope with the enormity of the ethical dilemmas facing them, while retaining a sense of self and integrity without being overwhelmed by it?
One important role for Sentient is, I think, to honour the worth of your values and collective wisdom when many of these dilemmas arise. The good folk of Sentient have created a voice that by applying their special skills and knowledge, their compassion and collaborations, can influence those in power, those consumers wishing to make more informed choices and those who do not have the power but have the commitment. I like to think of myself as one such person, who has eyes, compassion and a love of the natural world, who wishes to see an end to the horrific exploitation of animals and their natural habitats. But feelings are not sufficient to change the world. We need more than ever the voices of reason, knowledge and intelligence to contribute to an understanding of what it all really means.
I am not a vet, but I am very familiar with unravelling ethical dilemmas, through my experience in the medico-legal side of healthcare. There are many parallels. In trying to make sense of all this, I completed a Masters Degree in the ethics, law and philosophy of medicine, am currently studying for a doctorate, sit on a human research ethics committee, and have just started the University of Edinburgh online course in Animal Behaviour and Welfare, still trying to figure it all out. Sentient has been an invaluable guide.
When I was little, I hated the way the local kids shot sparrows out of the air with their air rifles, and made ants sizzle with magnifying glasses. I hated it, but I didn’t know why. Just seemed wrong. It seemed wrong when I spent many weekends over years on a big farm out west, herding the sheep in for all the proddings and cuttings and dunkings that keep them healthy, so they’d be worth more when sold. It also seemed wrong when in a university biology class I refused to kill a worm for dissection so I could start learning anatomy. I said no, there are other ways to learn anatomy. So they failed me. At 19, I still didn’t know why, but it just seemed wrong.
It still feels wrong. But feelings are not sufficient to change it. And so with the world’s population expanding exponentially, the environment collapsing due to the degradation we have imposed upon it and the suffering we have imposed upon the animals whom we exploit, we cannot continue to live like this. But with the huge wave of inertia and unseeing eyes on the one hand and on the other the interests of corporatised farming that serves the corporatised food industry with its massive PR machine that compels us to eat food that is so very bad for us, that we waste in the billions of tonnes every year while the rest of the world starves, that sends its waste and run-off into the atmosphere and the ground soil, and now threatens to stop us letting the world know, we need more than ever the voices of reason, facts, intelligence and compassion to contribute the knowledge of what it all really means, so that the unseeing eyes can see and the inertia can stir into action to challenge those vested interests that are supported by governments, that contribute so much to the destruction of our world, the natural environment and our integrity, in the name of profit and greed.
We all exploit something: the land to grow our food and build our houses; minerals and oil to make our things and to transport them; water resources, forests and even space, and each other. It’s a matter of balance: of power and control, of respect and sustainability, of care and benevolence. But our world is out of balance. If we eat meat and use animal products, we should care for the animals that provide it: not just so that they stay alive and grow fat so we can eat more of them, but because we respect their right to live a decent life, just as we expect for ourselves. Animals should not live in fear and pain nor die in terror.
The good folk of Sentient have the voice, the skills and knowledge to be able to bring these issues to our attention in an informed way that will influence those with the power to effect change, those consumers wishing to make more informed choices and those who do not have the power but have the commitment. I like to think of myself as one such person, who has eyes, compassion and a love of the natural world, who wishes to see an end to the horrific exploitation of animals and their natural habitats.