Euthanasia and end of life decisions:  Difficult choices

from Terry Gross’s interview with John Bradshaw.

Copied below is another part of the interview on NPR that I posted earlier on cat behvior.

As a veterinarian and someone who has been helping both cat and dog owners through the process of euthanasia, I found the following informative and very much inline with my own thoughts and feelings.

GROSS: What a lot of people are facing with their cats and dogs now is that their pet is elderly. And now we have a lot of options dealing with that – a lot of medical interventions that previously were only available for humans, and not too long ago even humans didn’t have the options of things like CAT scans and chemotherapy and, you know, interventions that can really prolong an animals life but are also very expensive.

And so if you have a pet now, you’re faced with some very difficult choices at the end of the pet’s life of, like, how much money are you going to invest in keeping your pet alive? Can you afford to do it? Does it mean your children aren’t going to go to college if you keep your cat alive? I mean, honestly, this is the kind of choices that people with pets have to face now.

And I wonder, you know, as an anthrozoologist, if you have any thoughts on that, because the end of life means something really different now.

BRADSHAW: Well, I think there’s a danger in over anthropomorphizing, over-humanzing our cats. There’s an issue of quality of life and an issue of quantity of life. And quantity of life is something that means a great deal to us humans, because we have a concept in our minds of our lives and how long they have been and how long we would like them to go on for.

Everything that scientists have found out about animals like cats so far is that they don’t have that concept. They live in the here and now. And so simply prolonging an animal’s life for the sake of it, I don’t think you’re doing the animal any favors. I think the animal does not understand what you’re doing for it.

What it will understand in its own particular way is what its quality of life is. Is it in pain? Is it in discomfort? Is it constantly having to be hospitalized and kept in a strange environment that it doesn’t understand? And it’s a very difficult decision, and I wouldn’t for a moment want to minimize the difficulty of it, but I would always boil – what it always boils down to for me: Is the animal having quality of life?

And if it is not, then I – my decision, my personal decision, has always been to allow the veterinarian to euthanize the animal, provided the veterinarian is content that that is the best way forward. Rather than spending money prolonging life for what I could, I think, rationally say would be my own selfish ambitions for that animal, rather than taking cognizance of the way the animal feels about the world.

I think we have to acknowledge that our cats are cats – they’re not little furry people – and make the decisions for them. We’ve brought them into the world, in some senses. We’ve nurtured them throughout their lives, and I think we have a responsibility to make sure that they end their lives in as content a state as possible.

GROSS: Have you ever had any regrets about euthanizing one of your animals, and thought after the fact: I did it too soon?

BRADSHAW: I’ve never regretted – no. I have not regretted having any of my animals euthanized. There have been one or two instances where I thought it probably should’ve been last week, but I was too emotionally involved. I was willing to let the veterinarian have one more try when the veterinarian was perhaps a little bit ambivalent about whether the one more try would work.

It wouldn’t be more than, you know, a few days, but sometimes, you get into a situation where you’re trying to help a blind, senile animal with kidney failure, and you just don’t want to let go. And I think I’m probably as guilty as anyone else of prolonging that slightly.

But, you know, again, you just have to stay back – sit back and think: If I was a cat and I lived in the here and now and I didn’t have any idea that death was final – because I don’t think they do – then what would I want for myself? And then, you know, answer that little voice in your head and obey it.