And More...

I am not a fan of euthanasia - let me just start with that. I am not one who goes on about Final Gift and so on and so forth -- but that is fine if you do! I just don't. It isn't that I am particularly opposed to Death but the truth is that I actually prefer Life. Okay -- it is more complicated than that so let me try to explain...

Before I begin I need to give some context and ask a favor -- first, the context. I have seen many, many deaths from babies to very old adults, and I mean "seen" literally -- as in been there. Before I was a professor, I actually did work with the dying and my expertise (if you can ever really be an expert) is all about loss/grief and that kind of stuff. Death is pretty darn real to me.

Now the favor -- don't get your undies in a bundle if my thoughts are different than yours! It doesn't mean you are wrong. 

In humans, I support an individual's right to self-determination but until we have quality end-of-life options that are accessible to ALL I cannot support legalizing euthanasia. Is that a contradiction? Yes, it is. But more important to me than an individual's legal right to decide on the means and hour of her death is the need to protect vulnerable populations from being funneled into death because there just isn't another good choice.

And do not be fooled into thinking there are good choices for all -- there are not. For example, hospice care almost always requires a primary caregiver in the home. That is great for men and people with money, but not so great for women or those without means. In heterosexual relationships, men tend to go first and the woman provides care -- and then who is there for her? Nursing home? That is a completely shitty option, especially for those who cannot afford one of the few decent nursing homes.

From my perspective, legalized euthanasia means those who have always had an advantage continue to have advantages, while those who have consistently been disadvantaged may well get funneled into the early check-out line. 

Not cool.

Further, I worry about the message we are sending to young people who don't necessarily have the capacity to understand the nuances. Do we really want teenagers, for example, to think that death is a perfectly reasonable choice for pain and suffering?? I don't. What are we modeling when we tell our children the dog had to die because she was in pain? (Hint: Change that narrative!).

And so I support your right to die but at this point in history, I worry about the implications of legalized euthanasia. And that means I am highly sensitive to how euthanasia is utilized, and the potential broad implications of euthanasia -- even in animals.

I am not opposed to euthanasia in dogs. However, I wish it were more often just one of many tools in the toolkit. I celebrate that more and more we are seeing hospice and palliative care moving in to veterinary circles because I know well that there can be value and meaning at the end of life. However, once again we see the stratification -- some dogs (and their humans) have access to different kinds of care options and others just don't.

Maybe that is it -- I am worried that humans, and especially disadvantaged ones, are heading in this same direction. Those with advantage and resources get to stick around a bit longer to enjoy their lives while those with less social value don't have that chance. Life with Dogs suggests that when euthanasia is an option, it can become the only option for some; I won't apologize for finding that a disturbing thought. 

And so my efforts at exploring end-of-life care options and providing thoughtful (and public) palliative care to dogs is a bit of a statement. I won't sacrifice my dog's quality of life to say this but no -- euthanasia is not always the only end-of-life care option for dogs.

Maybe euthanasia is/was the only reasonable end-of-life care option for your dog -- I get that 110%. Been there, done that with Cadi, for example (insert shattered heart). But broadly speaking, I believe we need to consider euthanasia in the context of available options -- or lackof -- and be thoughtful about the implications of individual decisions/options on the larger communities in which we live and die.

Before you react, please consider this summary of my thoughts:

 

 

 

5 comments

by Kim Doig on Sun, 11/26/2017 - 08:16

Excellent perspective Mary-Ann. A very difficult topic to tackle indeed but your words make a lot of sense, especially the implications euthanasia may have on society, in particular youths. Thank-you for sharing!

by Carol K on Sun, 11/26/2017 - 10:44

Very thoughtful.... and in the end( for dogs anyway) since we are still their caretakers I think it has to be up to the individual who is doing the caretaking. I have had to put a dog down in a crisis, chose to put an elderly dog down to end suffering, have had a few dogs die at home before i could make the decision - each had their own pain...but making a snap decision due to a crisis remains the worst pain for me- could we have done more? and so I agree it remains complicated and very personal matter...Still so sorry you are going through this very tough period and glad that you and Zoey get a reprieve for more days of chasing balls...

by Mary-Ann on Sun, 11/26/2017 - 11:00

Thank you for your comment. Agree -- making a decision in a crisis is a particular heartbreak that so easily carries into long-term regrets :( Sometimes we just can not avoid it -- the crisis demands decisions right now -- but other times we have to slow the train down and take some deep breaths and think things through. The challenge is knowing what to do *in that horrible moment.* 

My dad has a great saying -- "we can't change what we had for breakfast." My follow-up is that we can avoid having the same thing for breakfast tomorrow! That helps me -- if there is meaning to be gained or a lesson to be learned, the Hard Thing somehow seems ever so slightly less horrible. SLIGHTLY.

In a crisis, our thinking will be impaired so whenever possible -- reach out to people with clearer minds. The best decisions typically do not happen inside of our own heads - they happen in conversation with others.

Hard stuff.

by Alison on Sun, 11/26/2017 - 13:15

Have I mentioned lately how much I love and appreciate the careful, respectful ways you think about these important issues, as well as the intelligent and insightful words chosen to express those thoughts? Well I do.

by CA Heidi on Sun, 11/26/2017 - 14:25

Death is very real to me as well, both personally and professionally. I too have concerns about euthanasia, but in general, I am for the choice for people to have. I have let dogs go this way, and I agree that making this choice in exigent circumstances is so less than ideal. It makes the heartbreak that much sharper, in my experience. But sometimes, it can't be avoided. Knowing that is hopefully a help, but it is still excruciating.

There are so many gifts at the end of life, if we are open to receive them. A good death is (to me) like a good birth -- tears, great love, and laughter to ease the transition. I have been present for deaths that were nothing short of miraculous, and some that were pure tragedy. The difference between them was often found in context and intention; the best had some direction, and some time to asses and manage. Again, not always possible, but when it is, what a beautiful thing it can be. Having a sort of internal readiness can help make the space for this, I find.

I think perhaps sometimes there is guilt in planning around the end of life, as though it's a vote of no confidence in the soul who is ready to take flight. For me, that is the most important part of the conversation. It's okay to say I love you very much, and I am also preparing to say good-bye, all at once. These important things have become mutually exclusive, and they should not be. "Until then," can be one of the most loving things we can give someone.

I am so glad and grateful for discussions such as these. They ready the heart and the soul for important work. <3

~H

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