A Question of Ethics.
I thought we were fucked for sure.
It was the weekend and we were on our way home from grocery shopping. I was driving; my son and my youngest daughter were in the backseats. We went to the grocery store the same way every time and we came home from the grocery store the same way every time.
The path we took was by way of a main road that had a speed limit of 35 miles per hour. It traversed a relatively residential area that was perforated here and there with schools, an office park, and wooded areas.
The wooded areas weren’t substantial. They always struck me as aesthetic choices made by the developers to give the people in the neighborhood something better to look at other than the house next to them.
As I was driving, I saw this “thing” burst out of a line of bushes by the office park. These bushes were roughly 60 feet ahead of me and lined “the slow lane”.
I was driving in the “slow lane”.
I have had this type of thing happen to me before: I get behind the wheel and I’ll see something familiar happen outside of the car or I’ll pass by something familiar but it takes my brain a couple of seconds to catch up. I blame the hypnotic nature of driving. The wheels rolling on the road, the sound of traffic outside of the car, the chatter from your passengers or the radio: It’s a perfect recipe for letting your mind wander.
“What the hell is that?” I said.
Initially, I thought it was a dog. Someone’s dog had made a jailbreak, found it’s way to the office park and then got spooked. As we got progressively closer, I see that it’s too big to be a dog and it’s moving way too fast.
Our car is still cruising at 35 MPH. Two seconds later my brain finally catches up with my eyes. It’s a deer. It’s coming straight for us and I know that this is going to be a bad car accident.
(At this point in time I was 33 years old. I have been a licensed driver since I was 17. At no point have I been in a car accident where I was behind the wheel. Not to mention, I wouldn’t know what in the hell to do if that was the case).
I blink really hard just to make sure that I wasn’t seeing things. It didn’t do any good: there’s still a deer on the same trajectory, muscles rippling, flying at us in full gallop.
I had a car next to me, a car behind me and a car behind the car that was next to me. There’s no way out of this.
Our responsibilities as humans to other species are hopelessly bogged down in what you believe ethically.
Case in point: it has been common practice in Afghanistan to have surgeons train on pigs. These aren’t the fetal pigs that we all had to deal with in Biology 101. These are live pigs. After intentionally wounding the pig, the pig is brought to the surgeon and the surgeon patches it up. The reasoning is that if the surgeon is able to stabilize the pig’s condition and patch it up successfully, then soldiers as well as the Afghan people will benefit (Rosenthal, 2007).
There seems to be two schools of thought with regards to the ethical responsibilities of animals: human centered ethics and life centered ethics.
With human centered ethics it’s really a case of ‘what’s good for the goose is good for the gander’. Hence, intentionally wounding Ms. Piggy. Additionally, human centered ethics bolsters it’s way of thinking by proposing that it’s our responsibility to care for the world (even through ambiguous means) so that our preservation is galvanized.
Conversely, life centered ethics proposes that everything (yes, everything) has a right to life. Even bugs (Environmental Ethics, 2008). While this may seem a bit odd and silly, it should be taken into consideration that it is a part of human nature to dominate our environment. Even if it is in a small way, consciously or unconsciously.
As it can be seen, not only do our ethical responsibilities rely on what we believe; they also rely on where we draw the line.
I slowed down as much as I could. Just when impact seemed imminent, the deer broke hard to it’s right and crashed head first into the car that was next to me. The pin-wheeling mass of flesh landed directly in front of my car in a twitching heap.
The worst thing about the whole situation wasn’t having to explain to my kids that they don’t save deer in this situation; it was the awkward sixty-seconds that passed before I realized that the person with whom the deer collided was only going to drive off.
I was agog.
A deer crashes into your car and you’re just going to drive off?
I’m sure that it is a hell of a thing to have happen to someone. Maybe this person didn’t have their cell phone on them. Maybe they didn’t have the faintest idea of what to do when you hit a deer. Their departure from the scene of the accident is understandable to a degree.
The people in the other car were headed the same way my children and I were headed. I knew that I couldn’t sit there and hold up traffic. Something had to be done.
After getting their license plate number, I pulled into the first parking lot that I could find to gather my wits.
Animals get hit by cars all of the time. It’s intense to see a living thing get taken out by a man made object and have it slowly die in front of you.
I knew I needed to be responsible. How would I feel 30 years from now when my son is my age and he brings this up as one of his earliest memories and I didn’t do anything?
(For the record, he brought it up a month ago).
I called the cops. I told them what had happened. I told them where it had happened and I told them, in essence who was responsible for it.
Don’t get the wrong idea: I’m not the “deer police” nor am I an animal rights activist. I am a man that saw something happen that most people won’t see nor will they have happen to them. As a responsible adult and a responsible father I needed to draw the line and show my kids the difference between humans and animals.
Rosenthal, Susan. (2007). Animal Rights or Human Responsibilities. Retrieved from http://susanrosenthal.com/articles/animal-rights-or-human-responsibilities
Environmental Ethics. (2008). Retrieved from http://www.itstheplanet.co.uk/environmental_ethics.html
Originally published at therankspoon.me on July 7, 2015.