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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Euthanasia Is Not "On Demand"

My associate ran into a rather difficult client this past Tuesday.  I wasn't there, but heard the story from her and some staff members.  The lady brought in a nine week old puppy to be euthanized because of multiple health problems.  According to the owner the puppy was very sick, couldn't do anything with its mouth (while it was chewing on her pants leg), had some sort of neurological problem (while it was playing on the floor), and had been to another vet and specialists who couldn't figure out what was wrong.  She had come to our clinic to have the puppy put to sleep because the staff at the other vet's office were too attached and she didn't want them to have to do the deed.

When my associate examined the puppy she noticed a very healthy, happy young dog who was in good body condition.  The only abnormality was a "cherry eye" (prolapsed third eyelid gland), a disorder that is considered very fixable and isn't close to being fatal.  She saw no signs of the kinds of problem the lady was talking about, and certainly didn't see any reason to euthanize.

So she declined euthanizing the puppy.  The owner went ballistic!  She started ranting and raving, actually yelling at our doctor.  One of our staff took a position just outside of the exam room in case the owner became violent and intervention was necessary.  Eventually after being quite loud the owner left with her still-alive puppy.

There were many things strange about the lady's story, mainly that this supposedly deathly sick puppy had been eating well and was playing in the room.  She had bred the dogs that resulted in this puppy's litter, so there was speculation that she want the puppy put to sleep because it had the cherry eye and didn't want to have to try and sell it.  That was pure guesswork, but it made some sense.

Let me be very clear here.  Veterinarians have no obligation whatsoever to euthanize a pet simply because an owner wants it.  This is an irreversible decision that ends a life.  Putting it very bluntly, we are killing an animal.  We do not do so lightly.  

Euthanasia has its place and time and requires careful thought.  We use it only to end suffering, and not as a convenience to the owner.  I have refused to do so many times, and don't regret any of them.  Though I will counsel owners and respect their decision if it makes sense, but in the end it is MY decision to actually perform the act.  I have every legal right to refuse this service and it is not malpractice to do so.  The ethical side of things may be a bit trickier at times, but I use a pretty simply rule of thumb...what will the quality of the pet's life be if we do nothing but leave it alive? If that quality is very poor, euthanasia is often the right choice.  If the pet will be perfectly fine, then I will usually disagree with the choice.

This lady was unreasonable and I feel no regrets at her leaving.  The right decision was made and I fully support my associate.