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Further comments on October's dilemma: A request for euthanasia: advising a colleague
  1. Neil Howie
  1. Park View Villas, 11 Barony Road, Nantwich CW5 5QY


In the dilemma discussed in the October issue of In Practice, a colleague reluctantly accepted the request to euthanase Bob, a healthy, two-year-old cat. The client was moving house and was not interested in rehoming. Later, a nurse said she could find a good home for the cat. What would you advise? (IP, October 2016, vol 38, pp 469–470). Andrew Knight suggested that the colleague call the client and explain that a new option had arisen. Bob could go to a good home that was far away from the client, so there would be no chance of them seeing him again. However, if the client declined, the dilemma remained. One option might be to tell the client that, in view of the new circumstances, they could no longer agree to the euthanasia; instead they could offer to refund the payment and refer the client to another veterinarian for a second opinion.

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IN the Everyday Ethics section of the November/December 2016 issue of In Practice (vol 38, p 527), Richard Brown comments on the dilemma in the October issue, ‘A request for euthanasia; advising a colleague’ (vol 38, pp 469–470).

He suggests that there are implications for farming in the discussion of welfare and ethical dilemmas arising from the request for euthanasia, made by the owner of an apparently normal, healthy, two-year-old cat simply because the owner was moving to a new home. He compares shortening the life of a healthy pet, which might otherwise live long enough to need euthanasia as a geriatric, to shortening the life of commercial animals which many of us eat.

In the context of the cat, there must be a point at which euthanasia of a geriatric cat has already allowed compromised welfare, otherwise, why should it not carry on living? If the euthanasia of an aged cat reduces the risk of unknown future welfare compromises, then the same applies to the two-year-old cat, which has an unknown number of years of multiple risks before it. This argument presumably concludes that there should be no pets because some pets suffer.

Brown complicates this dilemma by allowing that ethical choices are shades of grey, and vary according to circumstances. He suggests that in countries where food is limited, it is more reasonable to be utilitarian in shortening the lives of otherwise healthy animals, but less reasonable in developed countries with obesity epidemics. I presume he is referring to obese people, as otherwise surely we should euthanase pets in case they become obese. But, in this era of the global village, and the promotion of ‘one health’ for all of this planet's occupants, can those of us who happen to live with more disposable assets really be more profligate than those who have less? If we indulge ourselves or our pets to obesity, are we not taking from those who have to be utilitarian?

Brown reports progress in examining welfare on farms, including the concept of a ‘good life’, but suggests that this is ethically compromised by not allowing for the loss of life time when a healthy bullock is slaughtered at two years of age. My understanding is that the concept of ‘a life worth living’ brings together the quality of life for each day an animal lives, including the time immediately leading to its death, and the prospect that after its death a two-year-old bullock makes many contributions towards nourishing and clothing people and pets, and the land.

The ‘return on investment’ from the keeping of farmed livestock takes away the equality of welfare in killing a two-year-old cat and a two-year-old bullock and, in my opinion, the ethical dilemma over the premature ending of the cat's life does not mean there is any dilemma in rearing and slaughtering farm animals.

Humankind has and will continue to use animals in many ways. Veterinary surgeons need not be embarrassed about helping people use animals, provided we exercise our skills and judgements to help them do so in ways which protect the animals' welfare, and allow them a ‘good life’ which is ‘worth living’. For those of us working with farmed livestock, this responsibility includes reducing wastes of resources consumed in keeping animals from which the return on investment is reduced or negated by illness, disease and inefficient feed conversion.

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