Bioethics News

A gorilla grabs your kid: should you shoot?

That bioethicists regard the lives of animals as more important than infants or disabled humans is a common complaint amongst their critics. The death of a silverback gorilla in the Cincinnati Zoo serves as a test of this hypothesis.

Earlier this week Harambe, a 17-year-old male, grabbed a 4-year-old boy who had eluded his mother and scrambled into the enclosure. Zoo authorities ordered Harambe to be shot, fearing that he would injure or kill the child. The boy was unharmed, apart from bruises and scratches.

Harambe had been raised in captivity and was destined to be a stud for an endangered species. So his death was a minor setback for the future of gorilladom.

On social media the reaction to the incident was immediate and angry. An internet petition demanding “justice for Harambe” called upon authorities to charge the parents of the child with negligence. At last count it had secured 495,000 signatures. Criticism of the parents (whose names have not been released was savage: “That gorilla wouldve been a better parent than the mother” was a typical tweet. More extreme was “If your kid purposefully falls into a gorilla cage, you should just tell your kid goodbye. That’s called Darwinism.”

However, in the mainstream media, support for the staff of the zoo was nearly universal. The child’s safety was paramount; the choice was obvious. Frans de Waal, a leading primatologist, said in an extended comment on Facebook that the zoo staff faced a “horrible dilemma”. Even PETA (People for the ethical treatment of animals) did not denounce the decision.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.