Moral Injury in Animal Advocates and Nonhuman Animals and the Commonality of Being Reduced to “Lesser Beings”
A Sentience Article from

FROM Karen Davis, PhD, President of United Poultry Concerns
October 2021

“Some people seemed unfazed when witnessing cruelty, but I could feel the pain of every living organism through my bones, as if it were my own.”
- Elin Gundersen, “Understanding the Power of Compassion” one of 50 articles in VEGAN VOICES: Essays by Inspiring Changemakers, ed. Joanne Kong, Lantern Publishing & Media, 2021, p. 49.

[This article was first published October 26, 2021 on Animals 24-7.]

crying Girl
Image credit: Beth Clifton/Animals 24-7 in collage depicting crying Girl and Chickens in Slaughterhouse

We know that traumatized nonhuman animals share with animal activists a “resilience” that is almost heartbreaking to facilitate and contemplate. 

Through the years, people have asked me how I can stand knowing what chickens and other farmed animals go through without going insane. One person, a psychotherapist, wrote to me recently about “living day and night with these horrors,”: “When I read about them,” she said, “I am filled with so much grief that I feel suicidal. I would not say anything so tiresome as ‘I can’t read about it,’ because of course I could. I just wish I could find a way not to be so filled with despair when I do. It keeps me from being more active in animal rights because I can’t imagine living with those feelings of overwhelming, helpless fury.”

What led me to think particularly about what has become known as “moral injury” was an article, On Moral Injury, in the August 2020 issue of Harper’s Magazine. Moral injury involves the guilt and shame one feels in witnessing and facilitating an atrocity – facilitating by actively contributing to it or simply by watching it and doing nothing to stop it, including the frustrated desire to end the atrocity and rescue the victims.

An example cited in Harper’s is photographers, reporters, and humanitarian workers in war zones who develop guilt over merely recording human suffering and not preventing it, even though it is not their job to intervene, and they know that. Even if some do manage to save a few victims, the guilt and vicarious trauma remain, since they can’t save everyone no matter what. Kevin Carter, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his photograph of a starving child in Sudan, wrote before killing himself in 1994, “The pain of life overrides the joy to the point that joy does not exist.”


Please read the ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE (PDF).

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