Exposing the Harm in Euthanasia

Ahimsa and an Alternative View on Animal Welfare as Expressed in the Beliefs and Practices of the Skanda Vale Ashram, West Wales

Authored by: Samantha Hurn

The Routledge Handbook of Religion and Animal Ethics

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138592728
eBook ISBN: 9780429489846
Adobe ISBN:


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The Skanda Vale ashram, also known as the Community of the Many Names of God, is a multi-faith community based in west Wales. Founded by Guru Sri Subramanium in 1973, the ashram is ostensibly Hindu, but the monks and nuns also take vows of the Franciscan order and incorporate elements from other religious traditions in their temple services. Ahimsa (non-violence) lies at the heart of the community’s beliefs and daily practice. This is best exemplified in the ashram’s seva programme of karma yoga (union with God through selfless service) which incorporates palliative care given to terminally ill persons at the Skanda Vale hospice, and devotional care given to nonhuman members of the Skanda Vale community. However, Skanda Vale has come into conflict with ‘the outside world’ on numerous occasions because of their belief in ahimsa, manifested in the community’s refusal to allow euthanasia. Most notably in 2007 Shambo, one of the resident bullocks at the ashram, tested positive for bovine TB and the community fought the Welsh Assembly Government’s decision to euthanize him. This paper draws on interviews conducted with monks and nuns responsible for the care of animals at the ashram, in addition to ethnographic fieldwork spanning five years, to argue that euthanasia can, in many cases, constitute a great harm. Shambo was an otherwise fit and healthy individual whose status as a potential carrier of BTB posed minimal threat to the health and safety of others. However, while healthy animals are often euthanized if they pose a perceived risk to others, in allopathic veterinary medicine not to mention public consciousness in the UK, ‘owners’ of non-human companions are expected to authorise euthanasia so as to end the suffering of elderly or infirm animals. Failure to do so can lead to criminal prosecution. However, a consideration of the treatment of elderly animals at Skanda Vale, coupled with an understanding of the community’s theology, juxtaposed with a review of existing anthrozoological literature on euthanasia allows for the normative framing of euthanasia as a ‘good’ death to be challenged.

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