Should veterinarians cover the costs for euthanasia?
Here’s a killer topic. It’s one veterinarians hate to handle due to its sensitive nature and accusatory undertones. And yet it’s worth raising, especially since someone else did so in a nationally syndicated pet health column last month.
The issue is this: Why should veterinarians charge their “faithful” clients for euthanasia? After all, it’s painful enough to have your pet euthanized. No one should be handed a bill on the cusp of such an event, right?
That’s the paraphrased version. And here’s the good doc’s response:
“In the days before dehumanizing, money-driven ways took precedence over common sympathy and decency, a vet would never charge a regular and responsible client for euthanasia. Now the service is usually tacked onto a body disposal or cremation fee, the latter being reasonable. But as a business courtesy, if not on the grounds of professional etiquette and ethics, I think veterinarians should not charge their faithful clients one dime for euthanasia.
There are many overhead expenses when running any good veterinary clinic or hospital, but some loss of revenue regarding the euthanizing of one's animal patients would pay off in other ways. Imposing a bill for services during a time of intense grief and devastating loss seems impersonal and demeaning. Better to at least send the bill later, after a sympathy card.”
That, courtesy of Dr. Michael W. Fox, the veterinarian other veterinarians love to hate for his wacky, off-the-wall recommendations on pet care and business ethics in spite of his never having worked in veterinary private practice settings––or in clinical medicine, for that matter.
Now, it’s not that Dr. Fox doesn’t have a valid point or that his message is totally off-base. After all, none of us would deny that euthanasia is a time of incredible stress for everyone involved, a time when the financial aspects of veterinary medicine seem incongruous with our pledge to alleviate suffering and advance animal health with compassion. And there’s no doubt that it’s tremendously tricky to euthanize a patient lovingly only to turn around and hand your client a bill.
It’s also true that Dr. Fox’s implication that veterinary medicine has gone money hungry––even in the face of euthanasia––is not completely wrongheaded. It is, however, an overly simplistic interpretation of the cultural machinations that drive everyday private practice economics. That’s because the “dehumanizing, money-driven ways” our society has lapsed into...cut both ways.
- The client whose pet has been hospitalized for four days after suffering a diabetic-ketoacidotic relapse. Euthanasia ensues. The entire family is present. It’s a touching moment, as it often is. I don’t have the heart to charge the client at the moment. Six months later, I still haven’t been paid––for any of it, much less the euthanasia.
- When I euthanized a patient after a short bout with cancer, the owner opted for a beautiful (and very expensive) urn for her pet’s ashes. Again, I hadn’t had the heart to charge the client at the time of the euthanasia, near-hysterical as she was. When she came to pick up her pet’s ashes she hadn’t brought her wallet. Knowing how tacky it is to hold ashes hostage (as if we ever would), we handed them over along with the final invoice. We wrote off the entire bill in December after almost a year of non-payment.
- And if you think these scenarios are rare, you’re wrong. These just happen to be the ones I remember best for their especially high-priced ouch-factor.
- What about the client who you’ve only seen a couple of times? When our society is so mobile and our typical clients last two to five years (and veterinarians only last a few years at any one place), it makes it tougher to determine where to draw the line at comping costs for “faithful” client-hood. And when to let them walk away with a simple bill in the mail.
- And then there are clients who always seem to be bringing their pets only when they’re at death’s door. Do they deserve death concessions out of compassion?
- When costs for drugs, supplies, gas, equipment, etc. are rising so quickly, covering euthanasia costs for our clients will invariably mean raising costs for other services.
Is it nonetheless the right thing to do? Absolutely...in a perfect world. Or when your relationship with your client is so solid that it can weather any storm––a rare bird indeed in this culture of neighborly alienation and interpersonal estrangement.
Sure, I have more than a handful of fabulous clients I've not charged for actual euthanasia services, and yet it still irks to read Dr. Fox’s prescription for the right way to handle a tender client interaction. Let him spend a few months at a Banfield...or, better yet, working ER...and let’s see where his compassion leads him. He might then think twice about throwing his "money-grubbing" veterinary colleagues under a bus.