Euthanasia is not just placing an IV catheter, pushing propofol, flushing with saline, and then following with Euthasol. It is not just the end of an estimate, a “reasonable and respectable” course of action for a terminally ill pet, or the end for injured and abandoned neonatal wildlife. It is not just a painless, peaceful end to suffering. And, no matter how many times you place the catheter, draw up the solutions, and say “I’m sorry it has come to this,” it’s not just something you get good at. Sure, you get uncomfortably comfortable explaining the process and completing the steps, but it never gets easy.
As a scientist who was raised Catholic and has studied world religions, biology, eastern philosophy, animal physiology, spirituality, and organic chemistry euthanasia is not easy. All of these fields have something unique to say about euthanasia and they all converge on one similar conclusion. It’s complicated. It’s complicated not in doing but in explaining, justifying, accepting, and understanding.
Euthanasia, in the chilled, metallic, black, and white sphere of science brings a quick, painless end to disease. “Dis-ease,” as you could also say it, is the antithesis to life, because to live normally and healthily is to live “with ease,” free from plaguing infection, disorder, and discomfort. When ease is lost normal physiology becomes abnormal, systems break down, and the ticking of the biological clock slows and slows and slows. Euthanasia quickly stops the biology clock eternally. That’s it.
Looking at it differently, euthanasia, in the spiritual, philosophical, airy realm of religion brings peace and serenity to animals who are suffering who do not deserve to suffer at all. Religions have diverse perspectives on pretty much everything, but they all agree that suffering should not be had by any living being. Therefore, one could say euthanasia speeds up the agonizing process of death, and in doing so, mitigates future pain and suffering altogether.
Now, some questions for us veterinarians:
Who are we to choose when life is ended? Who are we to define an animal’s suffering? Who are we to make a decision for another without a human voice? Who are we to play god? Is all life, regardless of quality, worth living? Who are we to set that standard?
Complicated, right? But here’s more information that may help with some answers.
The Catholic faith talks about how all life is valuable, all life is given and taken by God, and a natural death is a normal part of life and not to be interfered with in any way. Buddhism places great emphasis on avoiding harm to others, that death is a natural transition through existence, and that if life is cut short in an unnatural way karma is interfered with. Other faiths around the world have similar and contrasting ideas about euthanasia, but you get the point. For strict scientists of no faith, euthanasia and death is simply a process. Who really knows what happens, right?
We can agree that all life is valuable and no being deserves to suffer. So, if the goal of the veterinarian is to do no harm and protect good quality life, what does this say about painlessly and peacefully ending harm, stopping suffering, and even avoiding future pain and anguish with humane euthanasia?
There really is not a clear answer here. Science and religion present an ever-developing discussion on death in which euthanasia will always be a focal point. It surely is complicated. It surely is worth discussing, exploring, considering, and feeling because with all of this, perhaps one day, it will get a little bit easier.