There comes a point when a pet owner must make a terrible decision, whether or not to have his or her pet put to sleep. The pet is suffering – badly hurt, terminally ill, in the last vestiges of old age, incontinent, can’t breathe, in pain. It looks up at the owner with sad eyes that seem to say, Let me go.
This moment will happen to most pet owners. We interpret our animal’s needs, matched by our own. We see our pet’s suffering, and suffer in kind. We do all we can to find out what is wrong and fix it, but sometimes it can’t be fixed. We then choose for our pet. If the animal were in the wild, it would have snuck away to die probably long before we give up and make that choice.
In such cases I support euthanasia. I have brought animals to my own veterinarian knowing that would be the outcome. It was always hard to do, but necessary. The Vet would offer all the options but the decision would be mine. I never made it lightly.
I do not believe in killing a pet because it has become inconvenient. You have to move across the country. The neighbors complain about your pet. Your couch is destroyed. You’ve become so darned tired of scooping cat boxes and finding hair balls and buying expensive food. You might wish your pet away, but the animal did not ask you for this life. It was your choice to place it in your artificial world. That makes you responsible. Animals are not disposable.
Your pet also cannot really tell you when it has had enough. But people can. Yet we in America do not want to extend to our fellow human beings the same choice that we make on behalf of the animals who cannot choose. Instead, we push to prolong the life of a terminally ill person who is suffering great pain and who wants the pain to end. Not every terminally ill person wants to stop. Most, I believe, fight to live. I would. But we take away that very choice, instead wanting nature to take its course no matter how long it takes, no matter how much money it costs the individual and the family involved, no matter how much sense of self and of dignity are lost.
We speak in lofty terms about the quality of life. When a pet’s quality of life has diminished – in our eyes – we accept the idea of euthanasia. When a person’s quality of life has diminished – in his or her own eyes – we cry murder.
I do not believe in casually pulling the plug. But, with careful and considerate counseling, with all options clearly laid out and the person in question fully participant in the discussion, euthanasia for human beings should be an option. In those cases where the person in question cannot participate in the debate, the needs of the family come into play. It is a trickier scenario, but the choice should be available then as well.
Hospital policies already passively support patient-chosen death with the DNR – do not resuscitate – order offered to a patient before treatment. Along with it comes the phrase, no extraordinary measures. The unspoken thought is: Let me go.
We believe our animals tell us those three words when the time comes. Let me go. Cannot a human ask as much?