1 December 2023

Ethicists’ commentary on the importance of meaningful discussion around the decision to euthanize

Grey cat lying under a basket
📷 12927396 © Alon Brik | Dreamstime.com

Ethical question of the month, September 2023

I recently had to make a difficult decision about my beloved, 1-year-old cat. She had some behaviors, respiratory issues, and urinary disease that were challenging to manage. One of the recommendations was that she live in a low-stress home with no other pets. Discussion with my colleagues at the BC SPCA led to the conclusion that she would be nearly impossible to rehome successfully, especially given the current capacity issues in shelters and rescues. We made the heartbreaking decision to have her euthanized. We chose to have this done ourselves, to minimize her stress, rather than to return her to the shelter. On arrival at the clinic, the veterinarian refused to perform the euthanasia. A technician told us that they “feel more could be done for this young cat,” and said that if we wanted to talk to the veterinarian directly, we would be charged an “exam fee.” I am not convinced that the veterinarian was aware of the cat’s full history, since the discussion with the technician had been brief. Distraught, we left. I understand that euthanasia can be difficult for veterinarians and staff. Requesting euthanasia is rarely an easy decision. Is it reasonable that veterinarians must consider the consequences that refusing euthanasia would have for the animal, their family, and community resources such as shelters? Should veterinarians carefully weigh the owner’s motives and knowledge before declining euthanasia?

Clare Palmer, Peter Sandøe, & Dan Weary comment on this dilemma and you can read it here: Ethicists’ commentary on the importance of meaningful discussion around the decision to euthanize (pdf)