“Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” was the title of the final episode of M*A*S*H, my favorite childhood television show. It could also be the title of some of the sadder days I’ve experienced as a veterinarian. A recent article in the New York Times addressed some of the moral and ethical dilemmas surrounding end-of-life care and euthanasia for our pets.
Euthanasia is often a necessary conclusion to our pets’ lives. People frequently wonder how difficult it must be to put dogs and cats to sleep, but the reality is that most veterinarians see euthanasia as a gift. We have the ability to tell our pets “I love you so much, that I’m not going to let you suffer any more.” Personally, I feel that veterinarians have a unique imperative, in that we have the legal and moral authority to euthanize animals with terminal illnesses. We also have the moral responsibility to help counsel our clients about when it’s time to make this difficult decision for their pets. As veterinarians, we are advocates for our patients, and we help give Fluffy a voice when clients are overwhelmed with the emotional decisions before them.
Most clients tell me that we treat our animals more humanely than we treat our humans, since euthanasia is not a viable option for people with terminal diseases. And most clients express relief and thanks, once we’ve made the final decision to ease Fluffy’s suffering.
Some euthanasias are more difficult than others, but none are easy. Even through my tears, I walk away from these appointments with a sense of peace, knowing I can offer my patients and clients a serene “goodbye, farewell and amen.”