It’s ironic but on the issue of managed dying (euthanasia) pets and people are becoming more equal. I have always felt that the status of animals needs to elevated in the interests of their welfare. Now we have this happening but at the end of their lives when it is too late!
I’ll explain what I mean. The euthanasia of people with terminal illnesses is gradually becoming accepted by people, the law and the medical profession. In the UK, the BMA have just voted to no longer object to it. They now take a neutral stance whereas they were against it.
Today in The Sunday Times, there is an article which states that sometimes vets are unnecessarily prolonging the lives of cats and dogs when it would be better to end their lives humanely and painlessly with pentobarbital (is this method of killing genuinely painless? Another issue worth discussing).
EthicsFirst, a campaigning group of veterinary professionals and academics say that pets are being subjected to unnecessary and painful treatments by vets who refuse to let them die. Sometimes the interventions are unproven to be beneficial.
Advances in animal medicine has encouraged this state of affairs, as does pet health insurance. The two work hand-in-hand. The manufacturers of medical machines and drugs and the pet insurance industry are pushing up the cost of treatments and adding treatments which might be detrimental to the welfare of animals on occasions.
The campaigners feel that some vets regard euthanasia as a sign of their failure. They feel that it should be a last resort after all treatment avenues have been exhausted. This chimes with the feelings of the insured pet owners who are desperate to keep their companion animal alive as long as possible.
One academic, Professor Sarah Wolfensohn, believes that an objective test needs to be used when assessing the option of euthanasia as sometimes vets can be influenced by the cuteness factor.
She objects to animals being treated as mini-humans. I disagree because treating animals as mini-humans promotes welfare.
She euthanized her Labrador because he lost the use of his hind legs due to spinal arthritis.
Some vets might be driven by financial gain when deciding to treat pets when euthanasia is arguably a better option. And some vets don’t want to give up on their patient, perhaps egged on by owners with pet insurance.
In 2019 pet insurers paid out £799 million in claims in the UK which is 80% higher than 10 years ago. There were 212,000 claims for cats and 734,000 for dogs. A stark difference, incidentally. Dogs receive far more vet treatments than cats both in the UK and USA.
Dr Kathy Murphy was concerned that cat and dog owners are not always aware of the success rate of some medical procedures and the pain that their companion is enduring. This implies that some vets are not informing them of these issues. Vets sometimes tell owners that unless their pet receives a treatment they’ll die. But owners don’t see the suffering of the animal when in recovery at the clinic after the operation.
Some anaesthetists are saying that they are uncomfortable being involved in unnecessary surgery. Dr Murphy has refused to anesthetise animals on occasions she said.
As is always the case the question of euthanasia is a balancing act between competing objectives and forces. The welfare of the animal is central to the discussion. Prolonging life is not automatically the right way forward. It should be an object decision made in a business-like manner which strips away all the emotion of the moment if that is possible.
Finally, the animal’s human caregiver should be there when euthanasia takes place. It is their last duty.
P.S. The opposite also occurs: convenience euthanasia, when cats and dogs are killed at vet clinics when healthy because the owners want rid of them. This failing is possible more common than the one discussed on this page; I’d argue.
P.P.S. The major difference between animal and human euthanasia is that animals can’t communicate their consent to it. I don’t think animals understand concept of dying in any case and therefore if they could communicate their consent or objection to it, they wouldn’t have an opinion. But this puts an added obligation on humans.
SOME MORE ON EUTHANASIA: