Discussing euthanasia is stressful for any veterinarian. Having to refuse it can be doubly so.

It’s an uncomfortable position many vets find themselves in for a variety of reasons.

The most oft-mentioned scenario? A healthy animal is presented to the veterinarian. Euthanasia is requested for a vague reason, disapproved-of reason, or for no reason at all.

Under these circumstances we can all agree that a veterinarian charged with the humane treatment of animals and as general guardian of their welfare is granted discretion in refusing a request like this.

“Gimme a good reason,” is typically all we ask.

Did he maul someone? Does he have a non-obvious life-threatening disease?

I won’t prompt the client. The good reason’s got to come out unguided. Trust is everything here—and sometimes we won’t know these clients from Adam.

When I worked emergency hours serving clients I’d never met before, refusing euthanasia was not rare for me. If the animal was healthy (which didn’t happen often, it’s true) I’d tell them to wait to see their regular vet.

“It’s not an emergency,” was my party line. And it worked.

Recently, I had cause to discuss this very scenario with a surgeon at a large, regional referral hospital. She described the discomfort of having to refuse euthanasia whenever  clients realized they could not afford a procedure:

“If I euthanized every dog with a broken leg whose owner couldn’t afford definitive treatment I’d feel like Dr. Death. My job is to fix things, not to kill fixable animals when owners can’t afford me. It’s the regular vet’s job to take care of these euthanasias after discussing all options thoroughly. What’s more, it’s considered rude for me to euthanize someone else’s regular client in a non-emergency situation.”

She has a point. But it still unnerves me to consider sending an injured pet out the door whose owner’s next stop could be the Everglades (animals are dumped there routinely as a cost-effective solution to their owners’ complaints against them).

But it’s still our prerogative to deny death when our conscience tells us we must, isn’t it?