How many times have we all heard the argument, “They shoot horses, don’t they?” Its logic is that if the suffering of animals and humans is essentially the same, they both should be released from suffering in the same way. “You wouldn’t let a dog suffer like this…” But if the animal-human parallel works for the patient, why not the doctor?
Every year, about 1.5 million cases of euthanasia take place in the United States. Does this have a negative impact on healthcare workers?
Sorry, about 1.5 million cases of cat and dog euthanasia take place. But the question is still relevant. Veterinarians, veterinary assistants and shelter workers experience great stress at having to put animals down.
Vets are idealists. They love animals and choose a career so that they can help them. Instead, many find that a significant part of their daily routine is killing animals, often for frivolous or utilitarian reasons. Bernard E. Rollin, a philosopher at Colorado State University who specializes in veterinary ethics, recently observed:
The consequences are manifest. One recent study showed that one in six veterinarians has considered suicide. Another found an elevated risk of suicide in the field of veterinary medicine. Being asked to kill healthy animals for owner convenience doubtless is a major contribution.
What makes the vets so uncomfortable with the deaths of cats and dogs? Professor Rollin attributes it to a condition which he has called “moral stress” which “grows out of the radical conflict between one’s reasons for entering the field of animal work, and what one in fact ends up doing.”
With euthanasia or assisted suicide or both legal in seven jurisdictions in the United States, plus Canada, the Netherland, Belgium and Luxembourg, it’s worthwhile examining the experiences of vets to see what the future may hold for doctors.