What about Euthanasia?

When I stepped out of regular Veterinary practice a few years ago I believed I had said goodbye to many issues that contributed to my decision.
Little did I know, though I should have realised, that the difficulties would not go away without conscious effort. Nonetheless I have been grateful for the ‘breathing space’ that has been afforded me to reflect and discover a new perspective during this time and the constant little reminders that I needed to re-address some issues.

One of the biggest issues surrounds the use of euthanasia as a tool in Veterinary medicine and one of the catalysts for this posting is a recent publication by a colleague that clearly states that Veterinarians should insist on euthanasia in cases of terminal and intractable illness. Whilst euthanasia should always be offered in these cases I believe it is wrong to insist upon it when it conflicts with the beliefs and convictions of the people concerned. This does not mean that I am condoning animal suffering. It means I am challenged to find a new way to do things in these circumstances and to support the animal and their family during this period.

We need to face the reality that the public attitude and expectations of our Veterinary expertise are changing, sometimes at a rate for which we are often unprepared.
Most of us are aware that referral to specialist Veterinarians forms the basis of good practice in difficult situations and furthermore is what is expected from the best practitioners. As Veterinarians, we have a bounden duty to alleviate suffering to the best of our ability. It is not ever possible to completely control this natural process and we are going to be repeatedly challenged by our insistence that euthanasia is the only option.
In keeping with the increase in and demand for specialist services, I believe there is going to be a greater call for palliative care to be incorporated into Veterinary practice.

Many years ago I introduced the concept of processional grief counselling to my practice. This  involves a gradual educative process in the remaining weeks or months of a pets’ life that addresses the meaning of life and the process of death.
It is designed to celebrate the animal’s life and to demystify the soul’s exit from the body. I find this enables everybody concerned, regardless of religious convictions, to better come to terms with death of a beloved pet. Of course, this does not adequately address the issue of euthanasia of production animals, laboratory animals, strays and unwanted animals or injured wildlife but the basic principles, given the right environment, can still be employed.  In fact, the concept of Kosher and Halal meat production involves such a variation on the spiritual awareness of life and death of animals and the respect they deserve as they offer up their lives to us. Ironically, this form of death is quite acceptably termed slaughter, in contrast to a domestic situation where more compassionate language is necessary and we refer to euthanasia. The blunt truth is that we are still killing animals despite the motive and fewer people are now  completely accepting of this practice.

I am not anti-euthanasia, nor, despite being vegetarian, am I against the slaughter of animals for food production.

Euthanasia when practised with compassion and in an appropriate manner can be a fitting tribute and service to an animal at the end of it’s days or a young suffering animal who would find it very difficult to live out the term of it’s natural life.

I simply choose not to provide this service in my practice and I respect the rights of the parties concerned to make informed choices regarding how they employ these services themselves.  Whilst there are many Veterinarians beginning to challenge their own role in the euthanasia of animals and some who go to great lengths to avoid the so called ‘inevitable’, there is also a growing number of practitioners making themselves available to provide alternative services to people with animals nearing the end of their days.

The people who choose to be my clients are looking for a different way to provide for their animals and I am privileged to be able to offer an alternative in most cases.

Over time, I have observed that it is probably not going to be either in the interest or capacity of many of my veterinary colleagues to provide a level of palliative care that is conducive to a natural death.

Animals that have had their lives artificially prolonged through the long- term use of pharmaceutical drugs will generally have a much more difficult adjustment to preparing for death. This is largely because they have been sufficiently removed from the control of their own bodily processes and their subtle homeostatic mechanisms have usually been switched off or suppressed. In order for these animals to come back to a situation that can enable them to die by themselves, they must first be able to recognise that they are still living.  The animals that are able to have this awareness and control successfully reinstated are in a far better position to control their own destiny. Many animals will perhaps not be able to regain this balance, which is by far the largest determinant for the need for euthanasia in conventional veterinary practices.

Not many owners or vets will feel comfortable taking animals off medications but this is often what is required to facilitate a natural end. This does not mean that the animals are left unsupported in their illness and decline but rather prepares the way for an integrated approach to management that will adequately address these needs by means other than conventional drugs. There are, needless to say, many cases where this is no longer an option owing to the severity of decline in health. There is an increasing body of experienced and qualified practitioners available to facilitate the cases that are able to accommodate a change. Better still, in these cases, are the clients who choose an integrated approach to management of their pet, prior to the total dependence on drugs.

There are no right and wrong ways to provide veterinary care but there are options. A Veterinarian faced with a difficult decision and armed with sufficient knowledge to make a fair prediction of future health status must then present this view honestly to the client. Every single one of us who has practised veterinary medicine knows how it feels to euthanise animals. It is also one of the greatest stress factors in our profession and also one for which I, at least, felt largely unprepared by my university training.  I am not sure that this level of training has changed much over the ensuing twenty years.  I recall that this practice became more difficult with time as I evolved both as a person and a practitioner and I also recall some senior respected colleagues of mine who I observed to try everything in their power to avoid the need to euthanise. Both of these factors started weighing heavily on my conscience to bring me to the point at which I have arrived.

The catalyst undoubtedly came by my embracing of  a spiritual practice that involves meditation as a strong foundation in my personal and professional life.

This enables me to better access the wealth of advice and knowledge that is offered to us all directly from the Creator or through the universal consciousness, our greatest teacher.
Through this practice I am better able to challenge myself to find ways to meet the changing demands of my life and my profession and to hopefully be able to offer more options to the owners and animals who choose to invite me to be involved in their lives and their deaths.

To conclude, it is appropriate to end with an excerpt that summarises all that really needs to be said.

Question: Why do animals have to suffer pain, illness and injury since they are not conscious like human beings?

Sri Chinmoy Answer: When it is a matter of suffering, animals do suffer and we also suffer. But just because we are conscious human beings, we feel that there shall come a time when our sufferings will come to an end. We feel that there is Someone high above in the skies or Somebody deep inside the very depth of our heart who is going to listen to our prayers. It may not be today. It may not be tomorrow, but in His own time, He will give us happiness.

So when you see unhappiness in the animal kingdom, you have to feel that the same kind of unhappiness we have. They are suffering, and just because we are a little more developed than they are, we also suffer. We are like parents. When their children suffer, the parents feel so miserable. The little animals are like our children or our younger brothers and sisters. We can give them some shelter, comfort or concern.

We have to sympathise with them. At the same time we have to know that there is Someone who not only suffers with the suffering of both human beings and animals, but also has the capacity to liberate them from their suffering. He knows why they are suffering and He knows when He will strike His own Hour to give them joy.

To come back to your question, animals do suffer. Categorically I cannot say why. If I see the animal, I will be able to tell. In general, the answer is that God is having an experience in and through them. Even to come to that realisation is a most difficult thing. When somebody pinches me, I want to give a slap to that person—tit for tat. But if we have a higher realisation, then we can see that it is God who is pinching us and God who is experiencing in and through us either suffering or joy. God has formed a circle and He is moving around the circle. This moment we call it joy; the next moment we call it sadness or sorrow, and the next moment we see that this is only His Game. Perfection is in accepting the suffering as such and the joy as such. We have to become conscious instruments of God to give Him the satisfaction of experiencing suffering or joy. If we have a higher realisation, we do not see imperfection in God’s creation. We see that what we call imperfection or suffering is something that has to be transformed into permanent ecstasy or delight.

In the same way, if an animal is suffering, then our prayer to God should be, “I do not know why this animal is suffering, but I do know that You are inside this animal, and I want Your Satisfaction inside this suffering creature.” At every moment we have to tell God that we want only His Satisfaction.

So from the animal level I have brought your question up to the human level. There is only one way to become happy. We cannot see the Truth; we cannot feel the Truth; we can only become the Truth. Once we become the Truth, we can feel it easily, we can see it easily. Until we become the Truth in God’s own Way, we will not be able to feel it; we will not be able to see it properly.

Abridged excerpt from  Sri Chinmoy library

Sri Chinmoy asks “why should we deprive them of a natural death?”

This posting is gratefully and lovingly dedicated to Phyllis, Liza, Tigger and Meeka, all of whom, amongst countless others, were not deprived.

2 Responses to “What about Euthanasia?”

  1. From Animal hospice care (part 1): the unhurried death – The Dependable Companion

    […] possibly older) was doing well by senior dog standards but I like to be prepared. I was wondering if it was possible for dogs to die naturally, something you don’t hear about very often. Predominantly, a dog’s life ends with their […]

  2. From Jennifer Hornsey

    Dear Saranyu

    Your notes are very helpful. This contunues to be a challenge to me also. It depends on the undertanding of the owner.
    Thank you

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