There are so many great ways to bring on the “beautiful death” we know of as euthanasia. While it may sound harsh to revel in this fact, here it is: We vets give great death...usually. 

Not so according to six more states seeking to outlaw gas chamber euthanasia for unwanted animals in shelter settings. The method is not humane, they say. The animals suffer as they stressfully asphyxiate. (Thanks to PetSitUSA's blog for bringing this to my attention.)

Yes, some would argue that the gaseous variety of euthanasia does NOT fall under the guidelines most veterinarians consider humane. And I would hasten to agree. Carbon monoxide poisoning may be cheap and “easy,” but not for the animals.

Though some veterinarians and shelter managers argue that this method of “gas chamber’ euthanasia is necessary for safety concerns in aggressive animals, with the AVMA agreeing that it is “conditionally acceptable” in a position statement on the matter, there are few veterinarians who would choose this method where other, less stressful means are available.

So you know, the charm of the carbon monoxide gas chamber method is that it’s “hands-off.” It usually involves coaxing several animals into a large crate-sized, hermetically sealed chamber and turning the knob on a valve. That’s it. Safer for personnel. Faster than other methods because it can be done “in bulk.” And cheaper because while veterinarians must be present, they don’t have to be directly involved in handling the animals.

By contrast, animals euthanized individually must be handled one by one, with the additional emotional downside of feeling the death more personally. 

Full disclosure: I’ve never worked in a setting where this was done, but I once interviewed for a shelter job (in Florida) in which the gas chamber was a prominent part of the machinery of the place. I just couldn’t get past it. After viewing the gas-works, I withdrew my application––and cried like a schoolgirl, to boot. 

It just seems so wrong from our human point of view. After all, gas chambers evoke all kinds of holocaustian horrors. Carbon monoxide itself raises the specter of human suicide. And for all of the claustrophobes among us, it screams of pure Hell. 

But is it really that much worse than being held and restrained by unknown humans who may or may not be gentle in their approach? I wonder...

Interestingly, as gas chamber euthanasia for pets continues its seemingly relentless slide into obsolescence, progressive agriculture-oriented veterinarians are advocating its use. Most recently, in poultry. 

Almost two years ago I profiled an excellent Gourmet Magazine article on the “politics of the plate” and poultry processing in Europe (I've been a subscriber ever since). Chickens, it is alleged, are more amenable to a novel gas chamber death than the traditional slice/electrocute and bleed method. Their stress levels are markedly reduced with less individual handling. The gas employed is extremely quick. Moreover, the animals do not experience the stressful effects of oxygen deprivation with these new gases. 

One minute they’re being chickens. Within seconds they’re flopping alongside their similarly affected brethren.

Sure, it’s expensive. But it works extremely well. Well enough to impress me as a possibility for my own chickens should I ever choose to take on death detail in my own back yard.

But production chickens are not pets. They’re animals whose purpose is to stoke our palates and lace our plates, not to sidle up to humans as adored companions and revered family members. That’s why I can’t imagine that these six states won’t continue to erode the gas chamber’s reputation––not as long as the connotations of gaseous death remain culturally relevant.