Killer cocktails and dubious distinctions in veterinary medicine
According to the New York Times, there’s one medical arena in which veterinary medicine reigns supreme relative to its human counterpart: killing humanely. If you haven’t read my previous posts on the subject of human euthanasia and capital punishment killings, let me warn you: I’m armed with deadly opinions on the subject.
Not least because I’m good at death, as most vets with any experience indubitably are. We relish comfortable death with the bittersweet satisfaction of any self-respecting Hemlock Society member—as long as it’s necessary, appropriately accomplished and, above all, humane. We are, after all, higher reasoning-enabled humans—and the recipients of our “bedside beautiful death” are well-loved creatures who deserve nothing less tan the kindest end to their suffering.
Last Sunday’s New York Times article (I know it’s Saturday, but I’ve been busy, OK?), was clear on this point. In discussing the Supreme Court’s refusal to permit capital punishment until it hears a case on the subject in January (it stayed another execution last week), it delves into the murky waters of pain and the so-called, “three drug cocktail."
In case you’ve been hiding under a rock over the past couple of years, let me explain: Executions of death row inmates have been stalled in many states ever since a few of our lethal injection recipients appeared to experience excruciating pain during the procedure. Sure enough, anesthesiologists’ review pointed out the numerous pitfalls of the three drug cocktail our states employ to kill the condemned.
One drug to anesthetize. One drug to paralyze. One drug to stop the heart…and in the darkness bind them. (Sorry, couldn’t resist the Tolkien reference.)
But there’s a problem, Houston. Apparently, the docs and techs our prison system employs are less than schooled in this procedure. And while it takes little more than a trained monkey to start and maintain an IV, it seems that we’ve been deficient in this area. So the drugs don’t get properly delivered in sequence.
Because these drugs are potentially painful if they aren’t properly administered, the recipients have grimaced, screamed, sat up and reported on the drugs’ ineffectiveness, etc.
Going as far as to cite the American Veterinary Medical Association’s recommendations on appropriate euthanasia procedures, the article reports that how we euthanize our nation’s pets is viewed as far more humane than what we’ll ensure for our capital punishment cases. The one drug approach the AVMA deems acceptable is now being considered as a reasonable model for humans (though lots of vets, myself included, use two drugs: one to sedate, one to anesthetize and stop the heart).
It’s a dubious distinction, for sure, having our tactics lauded and used as a model for the killing of humans in the course of meting out punishment. It’s an unsavory parallel, at best. Ultimately, it’s my view that the reference is an insult to the caring way we attend to our pets. And yet it’s an homage to us vets that one of our practices is viewed as so humane relative to how we handle actual humans.
As I’ve often said before, euthanasia is where we vets typically shine—and I’m proud of that. Sure, it seems strange to revel in your deadly glory. But pause to contrast this ability to that of our human counterparts and it’s clear we succeed to excess where our human society fails us.