Euthanasia

Nembital Sodium for Humans, Dogs & Cats

Euthanasia

People are eager to talk about the choices they have made at the end of their animal’s life. Sometimes I ask, but more often people say without provocation something like this: “I just wish we could be so compassionate with people.” Many have had the experience of watching a (human) loved one die a protracted and ugly death. Almost everyone I talked to—above all the veterinarians—spoke in favor of assisted dying for humans. “There should be a way out,” people say. If we can do this for our pets, why can’t we show the same compassion for our human loved ones?

It may be breaking an unspoken taboo in drawing a comparison between animals and humans, but we think the comparison raises important questions. Should we be more open to euthanasia in the human realm? Should we, on the other hand, be a little more circumspect in how easily we apply euthanasia to our animal companions? Our Clients Prefer Our Services!

Animal Euthanasia - Veterinarian

The word euthanasia has its origin in the Greek language and means “good death. Euthanasia is defined as being an act of either killing or permitting the death of a terminally ill or hopelessly injured individual or animal by using a humane, painless method for reasons of mercy. Whereas euthanasia of humans has historically been prohibited, euthanasia of animals is not an emergence of the present age, but has been performed for centuries. In ancient Egypt, it was not uncommon that at the owner’s death, if his pet was still alive, the pet would be euthanized to be reunited with its owner, so the pet could continue to be the deceased’s companion in the afterlife. Even though the numbers for the euthanasia of animals is still high, euthanasia of dogs and cats have declined since 1970. The exact number of animals euthanized is difficult to determine since animal shelters are not obligated to keep statistics about euthanizing animals; so numbers are often based on voluntary surveys conducted in shelters.

What the law says
Most states have enacted laws dealing with animal euthanasia, detailing the euthanasia methods allowed and who may perform euthanasia. Mainly professionals like licensed veterinarians or trained and certified technicians may perform euthanasia. Such technicians must complete a specified number of hours of training before being allowed to euthanize animals. Some states allow non-certified animal shelter employees to perform the euthanasia of animals without extensive training. Some states allow for “emergency” euthanasia, permitted by law enforcement officers, animal control agents, veterinarians, or other designated persons. Emergency euthanasia may be performed by shooting the animal.

Guidelines for Animal Euthanasia
In regards to euthanasia methods, the legislature seeks advice from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) guidelines. The AVMA declared euthanasia through injection of sodium pentobarbital as the most humane method to euthanize an animal. Permissions for handling and possession of the chemicals required to administer euthanasia are mandatory. Such permission requirements do not just refer to veterinary clinics, but also to animal shelters, animal control agencies, and humane societies. Some states require that either a licensed veterinarian or a certified euthanasia technician is among the staff in order to receive a permit. The AVMA’s guidelines on euthanasia still allow the usage gas chambers to euthanize animals under certain circumstances. Twenty-three states currently have no ban on using gas chambers to euthanize dogs or cats. Four states are banning carbon monoxide (CO), but do not ban the use of carbon dioxide (CO2). The AVMA guidelines also condemn the use of household chemicals, cleaning agents, disinfectants, or pesticides as unacceptable euthanasia agents as well as hypothermia and drowning.

Euthanasia and pet assisted suicide
Requests for euthanasia may come from animal owners, animal shelters, or even the government. The reasons for animal euthanasia differ based on the perspective of who is requesting it. The majority of dog or cat owners state either terminal illness, behavioral issues like aggression, or age as the main reason to ask for euthanasia of their beloved pet. Shelters may claim overcrowding, behavioral issues, unadoptable, or financial issues to justify animal euthanasia. Even so-called “no kill” shelters do euthanize animals for the same reasons as regular shelters. “No kill” shelters may euthanize up to 10% of its animal population, while still maintaining the characterization of a “no kill” shelter.

State laws differ in regulating euthanasia of animals, with some states having enacted detailed laws describing the permitted method to be used, while other states do not directly regulate euthanasia or have not passed any law in regards to the method and circumstances involving euthanasia of animals. Enactment of new animal regulations have not come to a halt. In the past years, some states have passed new laws, finalized, or proposed new regulations. However, research has shown that preventative measures work best to decrease the incidence of non-medically necessary animal euthanasia.

Human Euthanasia - Assisted Suicide

Euthanasia is performed by the attending physician administering a fatal dose of a suitable drug to the patient on his or her express request. The relevant Dutch legislation also covers physician-assisted suicide (where the physician supplies the drug but the patient administers it). Palliative sedation is not a form of euthanasia: the patient is simply rendered unconscious with pain reducing drugs and eventually dies from natural causes.

What the law says
Euthanasia and assisted suicide are legal only if the criteria laid down in the Dutch Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide (Review Procedures) Act are fully observed. Only then is the physician concerned immune from criminal prosecution. Requests for euthanasia often come from patients experiencing unbearable suffering with no prospect of improvement. Their request must be made earnestly and with full conviction. They see euthanasia as the only escape from the situation. However, patients have no absolute right to euthanasia and doctors no absolute duty to perform it.

Guidelines for euthanasia of semi-conscious patients
Sometimes, a patient may lapse into semi-consciousness just before a scheduled euthanasia. If there are still signs of suffering, the doctor may perform euthanasia despite the patient’s lowered consciousness. This is laid down in guidelines on the subject prepared by the Royal Dutch Medical Association at the request of the Board of Procurators General of the Public Prosecution Office and the Healthcare Inspectorate. These guidelines on euthanasia of patients with lowered consciousness do not represent any implicit relaxation of the law; they are merely designed to provide guidance for physicians in this difficult situation.

Euthanasia and minors
Minors may request euthanasia from the age of 12, although the consent of the parents or guardian is mandatory until they reach the age of 16. 16 and 17-year-olds do not need parental consent in principle, but their parents must be involved in the decision-making process. From the age of 18, young people have the right to request euthanasia without parental involvement.

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