Is There Something Wrong With a Veterinarian Who Appreciates Euthanasia?

Patty Khuly, DVM
May 20, 2010
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I've gotta say that while I kind of dread seeing a "euthanasia" appointment on the schedule, the end result is almost always positive. Sound strange? Yeah … it does to me, too.

Which is why I sometimes wonder if there are more than just one or two screws loose in that pot of ratatouille I call my brain. I mean, who could enjoy the act of ending a life?

The answer: No one should enjoy killing sentient beings — much less those who come attached to adoring people. But here’s the twist: I can still appreciate the experience as one that is deserving of more respect as a worthy, positive endeavor than it tends to get.

From my POV, the problem with pet euthanasia is that everyone gets so wrapped up in how depressing it is. This is so much the case that I get plenty of offline comments explaining how this feature of veterinary practice kept them from pursuing a career in animal medicine. ("How can you bring yourself to...?")

But why does it need to be sad in every possible way?

Indeed, there are plenty of palpable positives when it comes to ending a life. And it’s not just about the deep-rooted sense of satisfaction one inevitably feels when suffering has been alleviated. Though it’s undoubtedly a blessing to watch an animal breathe her last ragged breath, there are other positives, too. Here’s a short list:

1. Family time: For so many of my clients this is an important family experience, as they gather themselves up from every corner of the city, state or country to attend their pets’ final moments in unison.

2. "What you mean to me": Here’s where I’ll inevitably cry if I’m not well prepared. A verbal explanation is more than most of us can take when it’s suffused with such emotion, yet participating in a procedure where a declaration of their bond plays such a prominent role has got to be the most amazing part of being a veterinarian.

3. Gratitude: OK, so I’ll cop to it. Being told you’re amazing for simply being present is a nice thing.

4. Talent on display: Make no mistake, euthanasia is an art and a science. Knowing that you’re good at hastening the end of a life makes the procedure a point of pride and offers an additional bit of satisfaction for a job well done.

There’s no doubt that euthanasia can be depressing. But when it comes at the right time for all the right reasons, why take the dim view when there’s so much good to be mined?

So does that make me a bad person? I don't think so. If anything, it probably just says a whole lot about my coping skills.

Dr. Patty Khuly

Art of the day: "Upside Down Beast (aka Batcat)" by deflorio2