More and more cases of “convenience euthanasia” are being brought to veterinarians across the country. These animals are fit, and in no danger, but their families are asking for them to be put down.
A survey of veterinarians in North America found the reasons people ask for convenience euthanasia range from “he got too big,” to “she sheds too much,” or even, “we just don’t enjoy them as much as we used to.” People also cite the high cost of veterinary care as a reason to put an animal down, or the difficulty of finding it a new home.
But what is most shocking is that there is no law or regulation that prevents vets from euthanizing a healthy pet simply at the owner’s request.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the British Veterinary Association (BVA) have guidelines and policies in place regarding euthanasia However, determining whether or not an animal can be rehabilitated or re-homed is completely subjective and up to the individual veterinarian.
“Yes, I have done owner-requested euthanasia. It is never an easy decision to make,” Emily Yunker, DMV, associate veterinarian at Branchville Animal Hospital in Alabama told American Veterinarian. “There are reasons it may be necessary. In my case the dog was unsafe and in my professional opinion, unable to be rehabilitated. It is sometimes the only thing that can be done. Rehoming the dog would put another family in danger.”
Most veterinarians will do all that they can to avoid convenience euthanasia and only do so after all viable options are considered, sometimes even taking the animal home themselves.
In “The Convenience of Euthanasia,” Dani McVety, DVM, asks, “what should be done in these extreme cases of uncomfortable euthanasia requests?”
“Allow me to push the boundaries a bit; in my opinion, we must take responsibility for the pet in some way,” McVety continues. “As a house call hospice veterinarian, if I am at a home of a pet that I do not feel comfortable euthanizing, and with an owner that simply cannot go on, the pet will come home with me. Yes, it’s happened. And have I euthanized animals that I may not have euthanized if they were mine? Absolutely. Have I euthanized animals that other veterinarians have refused to euthanize? Absolutely. Have I euthanized animals whose owners were completely at a lost, unable to go on for many reasons, and with tears in everyone’s eyes (including mine), we knew it was a difficult but good decision? Absolutely. And when those families hug me, knowing that I did not judge them for that tough choice we made together, that I did not force an altruistic or idealistic view on them, and that I partnered with them in opting for the best alternative option for their pet, a new level of respect is earned.”
About 2.7 million animals are euthanized annually, which includes approximately 1.2 million dogs and 1.4 million cats. Many of those animals did not have to die.
In “Strong Patient Advocacy and the Fundamental Ethical Role of Veterinarians,” published in the Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, researcher Simon Coghlan argues that the animal is the veterinarian’s primary client, and the one who should be given the most appropriate care.
“Patient advocacy need not entail insisting on life-saving treatment that, say, financially impoverishes an unwilling animal ‘owner’ and destroys the educational opportunities of their children. But arguably, it will involve professional attempts to protect the patient from real harm in a great many circumstances, including those circumstances in which there are potentially negative impacts on client interests.”
Euthanasia is never convenient for a pet, but when pet owners no longer want the responsibility of caring for their pet, they put the responsibility on veterinarians who must then make these hard decisions. A categorical ban on convenience euthanasia would save the lives of countless pets, and help veterinarians focus on helping animals that truly need their help.
Join others in making convenience euthanasia a thing of the past by asking the American Association of Veterinary State Boards to help change state policies for licensing veterinarians. Click below and make a difference!
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