Reframing the discussion of convenience euthanasia

June 1, 2016
Kristi Reimer Fender, News Channel Director

Kristi Reimer is editor of dvm360 magazine and news channel director for dvm360.com. Before taking over

CVC speaker urges veterinarians to think twice before judging clients who request it.

At CVC Virginia Beach I sat through an extremely thought-provoking session led by Dani McVety, DVM, on the ethics of euthanasia. McVety is co-owner of Lap of Love, a veterinary hospice and mobile euthanasia service network with 70-plus veterinarians located across the country. My takeaway from McVety's session was this: The judgmental attitude of many veterinarians and their team members when asked to perform euthanasias they don't agree with is driving pet owners away from veterinary practices and harming the profession as a whole.

The discussion led by McVety centered around the phrase “convenience euthanasia,” which on its face is inherently objectionable to many veterinarians: ending the life of an animal with a treatable condition or that is adoptable by another pet owner. What McVety emphasized, though, is that the terms “treatable” and “adoptable” are highly subjective. A single mother of three may simply no longer be able to give her elderly diabetic cat injections every day. A family that just went through three years of nursing a beloved pet through cancer may not be prepared to make the same journey when their new, relatively young golden retriever is diagnosed with the same condition.

Bottom line? You don't know what's going on in the life of that pet owner who is requesting what you are calling a “convenience” euthanasia, McVety says. What's very clear to her, however, is that that pet owner who feels judged and vilified will most certainly never visit your practice again, may never see another veterinarian again period, or may not ever adopt another pet.

So McVety has developed a set of guidelines for veterinarians facing euthanasia of a pet in the context of “convenience”:

1. Don't perform a euthanasia you're not comfortable with. Period. You have to be able to sleep at night.

2. Say no very carefully. If you won't do what the pet owner requests, give her options or make a referral without a whiff of condemnation. Don't get involved with a situation at all if you're not willing to offer at least some help.

3. If you do find that you are comfortable performing the euthanasia, when it comes time for that appointment, tell the client, “You're doing the right thing.” After all, it's the right thing for that client and that pet in that situation. And there is no greater gift you can give the client than release from guilt, McVety says.