Some Canadian Veterinarians Offer to Teach Doctors about Euthanasia

In February 2015, the Canadian Supreme Court unanimously voted to legalize physician-assisted suicide.  In September 2015, it was revealed that Canada’s Quebec province was preparing euthanasia kits with lethal injections for distribution to doctors for assisted suicide.

In December, Canada’s National Post published an article titled ‘We can definitely help’: What vets can teach doctors about assisted dying that reports:

Before every euthanasia, Dr. Amy Wilson prays things will go smoothly — that her patient will sedate well, that she’ll hit the vein with the catheter on the first try, that there will be no sudden, involuntary spasms or grunts for breath that can be agonizing for owners.
Wilson, like all veterinarians, is trained to put suffering animals to death as humanely as possible. She does it more often than she wishes she had to, but she does it well. Now, as Canada continues to debate the way forward on assisted dying, she and other vets say there is much they can teach doctors about a different kind of animal — humans

One argument long promulgated by assisted suicide/euthanasia proponents is that we should put people out of their misery just as we do for our pets.

However, pets become at risk for many reasons:

According to the American Humane Association, the most common reasons why people relinquish or give away their dogs is because their place of residence does not allow pets (29%), not enough time, divorce/death and behavior issues (10% each). The most common reasons for cats are that they were not allowed in the residence (21%) and allergies (11%).

Many are then taken to animal shelters. About twice as many animals enter shelters as strays compared to the number that are relinquished by their owners but nevertheless about 1/3 each year, approximately 2.7 million animals, are euthanized.

According to the website Petful, pets in animal shelters in the United States are euthanized every year for three major reasons: illness, aggression and overpopulation.

Regarding illness, the website states:

Because most shelters operate on tight budgets, the cost of treating every animal’s illness is impossibly high.Many shelters have veterinarians to prescribe medications and perform exams for sick animals, but the decision to euthanize must still be made sometimes after considering several factors:
•The severity of the illness
•The chance of recovery
•How infectious the disease is
•The cost of treatment
•The length of treatment
•The adoptability of the pet

Do we really want to adopt a veterinary standard that makes it acceptable to euthanize people as well as pets when illnesses are too expensive or  personalities are too difficult or simply when there are too many of them around?

Effects of Euthanasia on Veterinarians

Although the National Post article is generally supportive of veterinarians teaching doctors to perform euthanasia, it does document the emotional distress that can affect even veterinarians who perform euthanasia:

Studies suggest people whose jobs require them to kill animals are at risk of a phenomenon known as PITS – perpetration-induced traumatic stress. Euthanasia was one of the reasons Rothenburger (a veterinarian) chose to leave practice; she now specializes in pathology. When she used to perform euthanasia, “I put this filter on: This was ending suffering. That was the role I had to play. But it often wasn’t easy, and it’s hard to keep your professional persona on when you’re trying not to shake while you’re injecting the medication, or not cry with the owners until you’ve done your job.”

Studies have documented a higher suicide risk among vets than the general population. A 2010 survey by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association found 19 per cent of those who responded had seriously thought about suicide, half reported experiencing burnout and 27 per cent were taking anti-depressants. Rothenburger belongs to a closed Facebook page called Not One More Vet. “It’s a safe place for vets to talk about things they need to get off their chest,” she says, “like compassion fatigue, and maybe that tough euthanasia.” (Emphasis added)

Many years ago, my adult children and I had to have our beloved cat Callie euthanized because of an inoperable cancer. We decided to stay with Callie throughout the procedure because we wanted to surround her with love until the end. However, the procedure had some unexpected difficulties and we all found the process stressful and incredibly sad.

When we left, I told my children that if anyone ever tried to euthanize me for any reason, they had better stop them.

People are not animals and they must not be treated like animals.