One of the most fascinating aspects of the debate over Question 2, the Massachusetts “Death With Dignity” ballot measure on assisted suicide, is the outpouring of personal stories about our encounters with death and dying that it has brought. We don’t like to talk about dying. But suddenly, we’re doing a lot more of it than usual.
The stories that have arrived in the comments section of this recent post are moving, sometimes heartbreaking, always thought-provoking. One particular recent comment prompted me to ask the writer to expand. She had written:
The issues raised by this ballot question are faced by veterinarians every day. I can only speak for myself but I can say I have never enjoyed euthanising a client’s pet. However, I am glad the option is available. The word euthanasia means ‘good death.’ Perhaps veterinarians’ experiences could provide some clarification.
That rang so true that I asked for more. But first, an emphatic preface: This is a veterinarian sharing her thoughts and experiences, but that by no means implies that she is equating putting a pet to sleep with physician assisted suicide in humans. So please hold those objections. She is, rather, offering an insider’s valuable perspective on hundreds of experiences in which families choose to hasten the end of a beloved pet’s life. And facing head-on an issue that vets don’t talk about much, either. Deepest thanks to Westford veterinarian Shelley Fitzgerald for sharing this:
Roxie was a friendly and exuberant two-year-old Afghan hound cross who came into our clinic in 2003 for a small swelling on her cheek. The most likely causes were an insect bite, an infection or trauma. However, the swelling increased in size despite being treated with antibiotics, antihistamines and steroids. Roxie continued to be happy and eat well, but we and her owners were dismayed.
Ultimately the cause of the swelling was determined to be an aggressive form of cancer. We all knew Roxie and her family well, and everyone in our clinic cried when Roxie was euthanized because she could no longer eat.
I have performed hundreds of euthanasias myself and witnessed many more. After nine years, the details of Roxie’s case are still clear and painful. Yet I would not have wanted to see her live in her condition. I was grateful then and still am now that the option to end Roxie’s suffering in a peaceful and painless way was available. Continue reading