Can Animals Commit Suicide? Professor Peña-Guzman Believes 'We Need to Be Open to the Possibility'

Tuesday, August 17, 2021
A dolphin rises out of the water and peeks their head over a glass ledge
Photo by Chua Han Hsiung/Shutterstock

DISCOVER -- Those who argue for the possibility of animal suicide — most are quick to note that they are not certain it happens — call this “anthropo-denial.” That is, they think prima facie dismissal of the possibility that animals might think and act in ways perceived as uniquely human is too hasty. They maintain instead that these capabilities ought to be viewed on a spectrum. While animal grief — or depression or joy or anger — might not manifest in the same ways it does in humans doesn’t mean it isn’t real. So it is with suicide, they insist.

“We need to learn to sit with that: not knowing for sure either way and adopting a position of what I call epistemic humility. We need to be open to the possibility that we cannot rule it out,” says David Peña-Guzman, a professor of philosophy at San Francisco State University and author of a 2017 paper on the subject. The article, published in the journal Animal Sentience, was accompanied by a variety of responses from other experts in the field, who variously objected to and supported his claims.