Surgical Castration Decision by Surrogates

October 31, 2023 • Posted in Blog

D. Joy Riley, M.D., M.A.
Executive Director

After evaluating the situation and weighing the options for months, my husband and I took our two-year-old Golden Retriever to the veterinarian for surgery. “Rudy” has been with us for two years, and is fully grown. He is a loving dog, who is obsessed with playing ball in the backyard – between petting sessions, of course. He has marked his territory in the great outdoors for more than a year; of late, he has decided to claim some of the indoor space as well. That is a no-no: something we will not tolerate.

Nonetheless, we both felt a bit guilty about taking a perfectly healthy dog to the vet to have perfectly functioning organs removed. I drove while my husband, Rudy’s person of choice, sat with him in the backseat, on the way to the vet’s office and surgery. We were mindful that anesthesia always carries some risk of complication, including death. We arrived a few minutes before the vet’s office opened for the day. Rudy was on a leash as he and my husband waited in the parking lot for admittance. It was a typical scene, my husband stroking Rudy’s head, which was fitted perfectly at knee height. I captured a short video of that – just in case.

The assistant checked Rudy in for the surgery, and we said, “Good-bye.” As we drove away, I said, “This is the right decision. We cannot have Rudy marking his territory in the house. My husband agreed. “Yet,” I continued, “we both feel a bit guilty. Why is that?”

We picked up Rudy in the late afternoon. He looked stunned; all he could do was stand around, with his Elizabethan collar (aka “cone of shame”) around his neck. After several more hours at home, he was still uninterested in water or food. We gave him medicine for pain, and said, “Good-night.” The next day, he had interest in food, and moved around a bit. He is slowly improving, and should be running about soon.

Why did we have Rudy neutered? Primarily, he was neutered because we do not plan to breed him. Statistically speaking, he should have less of a problem with prostatitis, but a slight increase in the possibility of prostate cancer (although still less than 1%, the vet assures us). Practically speaking, he was neutered because we don’t want to turn our inside into an outside, having dog urine on rugs, fabrics, and in hard-to-clean spaces.

As surrogate decision makers, we caused Rudy to be changed in some important ways, anatomically speaking. Yet, we did not change his chromosomes. Dogs have 78 chromosomes. Rudy still has that number. Two of those are sex chromosomes, one X and one Y. Rudy still has those. He is still a male, even if he is missing some of his usual complement of male “parts.” I talked about my angst over our decision with a philosopher friend, who responded, “Well, you don’t have to change his name to ‘Trudy’.” My friend has a point.

As I reflected on what we were doing that morning when we dropped Rudy off at the vet’s, I said to my husband, “Can you imagine doing this to a child?”


On Another Note …


Worth Your Time: Selections from the Bioethics Library

C. Ben Mitchell, Ph.D. Distinguished Fellow of the Tennessee Center for Bioethics & Culture

C. Ben Mitchell, Ph.D.
Distinguished Fellow
The Tennessee Center for Bioethics & Culture


John Inazu, “The Challenges of Modern Medicine”

How does one understand and manage competing philosophies, ideologies, and political differences in a professional medical setting? These brief notes on “Contemporary Challenges to Professionalism: The importance of organizational purpose, values, and mission” offered by a distinguished academic at a conference at the Mayo Clinic provide some seed thoughts. John Inazu is the Sally D. Danforth Distinguished Professor of Law and Religion at Washington University in St. Louis. His next book, Learning to Disagree: The Surprising Path to Navigating Differences with Empathy and Respect, will be published by Zondervan in Spring 2024.



J. Daryl Charles, Our Secular Vocation: Rethinking the Church’s Calling in the Marketplace

A seasoned Christian scholar and author, Daryl Charles offers another way to heal the near chronic fracture between the sacred and the secular. He offers a robust doctrine of vocation, a theological recovery project of the goods of work, and exhorts Christians to take seriously their callings in the world. Deeply theological and immensely practical, the encouragement from this volume is worth every minute.



David VanDrunen, Natural Law: A Short Companion

Unfortunately, many Protestants have either abandoned or ignored the natural law tradition in ethics. David VanDrunen, the Robert B. Strimple Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics at Westminster Seminary, has written a short, accessible, introduction to the ways natural law is addressed in Scripture, informs ethical reflection in the public square, and shapes Christian ethics.