Euthanasia – Part 2.

Quite a few people clicked through and saw yesterday’s post, but only one person commented.  Perhaps the rest of you thought that “Euthanasia of animals” was an unusual title for the next episode of my exploits in East Timor, and were sorely disappointed by what you read.

Not to worry.  I’m really just thinking out loud at this point anyway.

This notion of euthanasia has been on my mind in one form or another for a long time, and maybe by writing and thinking out loud like this I can exorcise some of it.  Or maybe not.  Whatever conclusion I reach, or don’t reach, someone will turn up tomorrow or next week or sometime soon with another candidate for the green dream and whatever circuitous path my peripatetic mental ramblings will  have taken will be irrelevant to either patient or owner.

Perhaps I’m unnaturally  preoccupied with death?  It doesn’t feel that way, but you never know.  Death is absent from modern life in many ways, I think, and certainly it’s presence is hushed and hidden and considerably reduced compared to the experience of previous generations.  My grandparents grew up in a time when death was more prevalent, and more commonplace.  Children died more often, adults succumbed to infections and injuries that today would cause hardly a moment’s concern, and old people lived and died in the next room.

Nowadays people don’t die at home, they die in a hospital or a hospice somewhere.  Children die so rarely, and the epidemics of the past seem to be so tamed by vaccines and better medicines and public health that a modern westerner could be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss was about.

I wonder it this means that in the 21st century we are more likely to fear death, the stranger, than our predecessors might have feared death, the regular visitor.  Or do we just think about it less?

Our pets die.  Not as often, nor as young as they used to, and their longer lives and better health mirror our own improved circumstances.  But the natural lifespan of a dog or cat means that we will almost certainly be faced with the loss of our pets, for most people many times.

I’m a great believer that we can learn lots from our pets.  As kids we play with them and they teach us boundaries, and respect, and responsibility.  Later in life we enjoy a different relationship, and from them we learn about loyalty and trust and forgiveness and unconditional love.  And when they die I think we have to chance to learn again.

Death, the stranger, is so final and so mysterious that we don’t really know what to do with it.

Death of a loved one, be it human or non-human, is an intensely emotional time, one that we perhaps would try to avoid.  We see death approaching, and rather than wait for it and experience it, we postpone it as long as possible, then at the end we rush by it as cleanly and as efficiently as possible through the act of euthanasia.

So now we get to my real questions – is euthanasia the right thing to do, and if it is, when is the right time?

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Heidi
    Sep 30, 2011 @ 11:07:56

    If you’re just thinking out loud here, will you pardon me for doing the same?

    This is obviously a complicated issue surrounded by a myriad of other complicated issues, but if I was to give my own most honest, most simple opinion – it’s that euthanasia should proceed if death is what the individual -wants-. This obviously applies only to people, since even though we have scientific/objective ways to measure quality of life in animals, no animal is going to walk itself to the vet and say ‘doc, I don’t want to live anymore’. And of course, even in people, there are cases where people are clearly not living a ‘good life’ but aren’t capable of communicating -anything- (eg life support), and – even thornier – there are people who would rather not live even when they’re perfectly healthy physically. So you see what I mean when I say this view is in its simplest form.

    Extending on that – euthanasia is inevitably tied up with quality of life. In the veterinary situation, euthanasia is considered the ‘right thing to do’ only at ‘the right time’ – the ‘right’ time mostly being when the owner perceives the animal to not be living a happy healthy life. But I have wondered whether quality of life should be the determinant of the appropriate time for euthanasia? If animals were capable of clearly verbalising their -desire- to -live- even when they’ve got a hopeless prognosis and were suffering terribly, would our approach to euthanasia be different? Would the individual’s desire override the clinical picture?

    I hesitate to talk about people because I don’t know what the medical situation is, but to me, if a very ill patient wanted to die, then they should be allowed to. But I realise that in saying that, I’m also saying you -should- take quality of life into account, and then theoretically there’s a point on the quality of life spectrum that you have to reach before you’re ‘allowed’ to select euthanasia. Should that really be the case?

    Am I just talking in circles here?

    Reply

  2. Lizzie
    Sep 30, 2011 @ 14:03:42

    Che is turning 19 next week. A long lived angry soldier, a ball of hate, but long time loved. He’s blind in one eye, deaf, and has taken to calling any room his toilet. However, i think he is still enjoying making my life difficult ( not on purpose). So how do i know when he’s just”enduring life” and not enjoying his own little existence? He’s not in pain and still has a brief energy spurt here and there. I dont want to put him down for my convenience. I was going to ask my vet , but looks like he gets asked that too often! No, seriously its a hard decision. I assume i’ll just know when the time is right. Long live the ball of hate.

    Reply

  3. Richard
    Sep 30, 2011 @ 18:17:00

    The brother-in-law has a dog, Bentley, a nice old labrador…getting older and slower. Broke through their venetians one day because he HAD to do a poo outside and the open door was just too far away. Then his eye became infected. The question then became “to put down (okay, say the word, euthanase) or remove the eye” and let him spent his last few weeks in peace and out of pain. Six months later, the dog couldn’t be happier, though does tend to bump into stationary objects more often. But at the time we all visited regularly on the off chance this would be the lats time we would see the big white furball.
    So when is the right time to euthanase?

    In Bali last week there was a pigeon (yes, one of those dratted rats with wings) and it had what was possibly a damaged wing. I’d didn’t appear capable of flying but instead arched its head backwards so far that it would somersault. Being in a Hindu country it certainly wasn’t for me to publically casually assist in its quick demise, so I let nature take it toll (but it was still there the next day, and still doing somersaults).
    So where does religion come into it, and should it?

    Peter was a genial sort of bloke and a close family friend, and for me as a teenager, he was someone I could ask questions of. He was a bit quirky which was part of his appeal. As the years went by he became a bit more eccentric, with inappropriate comments creating awkward moments. His memory began to fade and he took to wandering the streets and even the odd angry outburst. He was put into a home where he continued to decline, eventually bed-ridden and incapable of looking after himself. When he died, it was recognised that it had taken 12 years for the decay to lead to death.
    There was no euthanasia, and after the angry phase, there seemed to be little recognition of his pain. But the family suffered, There were demands Peter be moved to another establishment. The many visits in which there was little or no recognition or comprehension
    So is there a right time to euthanase and to whom does it benefit?

    A member of the family lived to the grand old age of 88. Over the years this gentle man gradually slowed down but he remained an active and important part of the family. Then one day on returning home in a taxi, he found he could not get out of the taxi and had to be carried into his house. A tumour was found on his spine, amongst other places. There were offers to treat the growth, but the chances of success were less than 50% and the side-effects of the treatment would make life a misery for some months. There was to be no treatment. Over the following eights weeks, sure there were moments of discomfort and the threat of bed-sores. But he took his fate stoically, convinced he had led a full life and if this was the way it would end then so be it.
    Do we hang on to life overmuch and treat it so precious? Should we encourage people to know when it it is time to let go?
    To be given or offered a small extension of life for considerable discomfort and pain, is it really worth it? We can cure a 20-year-old and they may live to 70. We can cure a 90-year-old and they get to spent the next couple of years fading away in a hostel.

    One last thing about the 88 year old grandfather. There was a phone call early one morning calling for his family to attend within the next couple of hours. They were there with him when he exhaled his last. The doctors knew how long long it would take for the morphine to complete its effects.
    Euthanasia is already practised. It may not have the headline grabbing effect of Dr. Nietsche countered by Right to Life, but it is practised, sometimes with direct consent, other times with implicit acceptance without a word being exchanged.

    Each case is different and no set of rules can adequately cover all contingencies. That a person can choose their own fate or an animal can slink away to a quiet corner to die is what I ask. But where the option of choice is not available how do we decide what is right and what is not?

    Reply

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