OK, so I’ve been turned down again for an NPR broadcast but I keep trying. I never stop, really. Someday they’ll find me deserving. Here’s something I wrote for last Monday’s Supreme Court hearings on lethal injection as it applies to humans in capital punishment cases. I can only hope you’ll have more discerning taste and consider it worthy of your attention. ;-)
PS: Some of you have already read my views on this. Those of you who have please excuse the redundancy.
Today the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the legality of death by lethal injection. In the wake of this Kentucky case and others preceding it, much has been made of the fact that veterinarians have long managed to provide humane euthanasia to suffering animals.
Many court observers have contrasted the success of the veterinary version of euthanasia to reports of painful injection during administration of the so-called “three drug cocktail” used in human lethal injection. Yet as a veterinarian I feel uneasy about having my profession’s practices likened to those of the morally fraught death penalty’s.
On the one hand, I’m justifiably proud of the work we veterinarians do as we identify increasingly compassionate ways to euthanize our patients when necessary. On the other, I’m concerned about the comparison to human death by injection, knowing that the two situations, in many ways, could not be more disparate in their goals.
After all, euthanasia literally means “beautiful death.” It’s undertaken with love and feeling by everyone involved. In this way, it’s as far away in its objective from that of human execution as I can think of.
In fact, I can’t help feeling it cheapens my profession’s mission to hear observers on both sides of the debate wring their hands over the dignity we afford our pets relative to humans—as if a “beautiful death” for a beloved family member is somehow equivalent to the implementation of the most controversial aspect of our nation’s penal code.
It’s a dubious distinction, for sure, having our tactics lauded and potentially used as the standard for the killing of humans in the course of meting out punishment. It’s an unsavory parallel, at best. Ultimately, it’s my gut feeling that the reference is an insult to the caring way we attend to our pets.
Just last week, I euthanized a young, healthy dog after he’d bitten more than one child. Even under these unhappy circumstances—which is the closest comparison I can make to a condemned prisoner’s—he was well loved by his family. We rubbed his belly as we administered the drugs to end his life.
I’m no judge. I’m just a vet who recognizes humane treatment when I see it. And we should know. We’re good at death. I euthanize an average of four pets a week and it’s that kind of hard-to-stomach work that makes us experts. Consequently, I have to grudgingly admit that vets are worth looking to as a model for what might work more effectively and humanely for humans, despite my visceral reaction to the contrary.
As Gandhi said, “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Though these humans are not likely the innocents our pets are, it’s obvious we vets succeed with animals where our human society fails.