Veterinarians have legal and ethical responsibilities to provide good care for the animals they handle in their veterinary practices. However, they often experience ethical conflicts arising from the differences between animal owners, veterinarians, and animals. As a result, veterinarians face ethically challenging situations which may lead to stress or moral distress. Hartman et al. (2020) confirmed that several ethical issues occur in business units of veterinary practices. When such problems are experienced, they result in dilemmas that require a proper, well-thought-out ethical decision to address them. Sometimes the puzzles in the veterinary practice could pit the owner and the vet with both looking after the animal's best interests. Specifically, the case of euthanasia for animals can be a challenging decision. Therefore, this paper presents a thorough analysis of a business ethics decision on euthanasia for a 'fixable animal' within the veterinary practice, assessing the situation and the possible resolutions.
Recently, I witnessed an ethical dilemma in a veterinary centre I visited as a client regarding euthanasia. A middle-aged man brought his critically ill German Shepherded dog for treatment. The dog was suffering from arthritis that made it look weak due to swelling on his joints. Although the dog looked emaciated and vulnerable, the vet was confident that treatment was possible and the dog could fully recuperate. However, the owner wanted the euthanasia of the animal, which according to the vet, was a fixable animal. The owner wanted the dog's life terminated because of the pain the dog was experiencing and the inability to meet the treatment cost.
In the medical field, euthanasia refers to a painless way of killing individual suffering from a curable or painful disease. In veterinary practice, the Animal Welfare Act defined euthanasia as a painless method to cause human destruction and subsequent death of animals. It uses a painless agent but causes loss of consciousness and death (Hernandez et al., 2018). Sometimes euthanasia is a more complex decision for the animal doctor than the human doctor. Veterinary doctors have confirmed that sometimes they find themselves in an unenviable and challenging situation when caring for the patients. There are significant concerns about the pain and suffering of the animal. But there is also a difference in the approach between the vet and the owner.
The ethical dilemma arises due to the conflict of interest between the veterinarian, the owner, and the animal itself (Fawcett et al., 2018). The animal has the right to life and a dignified end to its life. The doc is confident that this is a fixable animal, and with proper treatment, the dog's health can be improved (Hartman et al., 2020). The vet is willing to perform all the necessary medical procedures to ensure that the pet regains health. He believed that administering pharmacological pain treatment would be adequate to relieve the pain and guarantee the animal's good quality of life (Moses et al., 2018). The critical interest of the veterinary doctor during the practice was to perform his professional responsibility by restoring the life of the pet.
Sometimes the ethical arguments between two people may seem fitting. For instance, one person may consider pain a sufficient reason to consider euthanasia while the other may reason from emotional connection. They may fear losing a loved one. The author witnesses an ethical conflict between the veterinary officer and the pet owner from this example. The owner was seemingly tired of keeping the pet for the apparent reason that the pet was suffering from pain. The owner desired a good death for the animal, and therefore he requested euthanasia (Hernandez et al., 2018). The dog was faithful, and the owner was accustomed to his love. Thus there was some emotional attachment. However, he lacked hope and believed that only the painless killing of the dog could be fulfilling. It marked a significant ethical conflict commonly experienced in veterinary practice (Moses et al., 2018). In this case, the animal's death was not anticipated, nor was it an inevitable part of the protocol (Fawcett et al., 2018). There was no need for the owner to demand the animal's end of life since the termination of life was not necessary to avoid suffering.
While many people may reject euthanasia, scientists consider it an ethical procedure that can eliminate unnecessary suffering. Hernandez et al. (2018) emphasize that euthanasia can be regarded as an ethical procedure in a veterinary practice when there is reasonable ground to believe that it is inhuman to extend the animal's extremely painful or poor quality of life. Similarly, when treatment cannot restore the animal's life or health or relieve pain, euthanasia can be considered an ethical procedure (Hartman et al., 2020). If euthanasia is regarded as a virtuous procedure, both parties must agree for the procedure to proceed. The veterinarian must explain why euthanasia is the best solution to the current medical condition the pet is experiencing (Fawcett et al., 2018). In the case example, the apparent lack of agreement is the source of the ethical conflict between the doc and the owner.
Nevertheless, ethical decisions should be consistent with the legal provisions governing a profession and the country's laws. Although laws have not openly specified anything about the euthanasia of dogs, some legislation requires that dogs should be treated the same as human beings (Moses et al., 2018). While some people believe that it is not harmful to terminate the life of a non-self-aware dog, ethical issues arise when the owner and the veterinarian disagree on the right procure (Hartman et al., 2020). It is exacerbated by the law limiting euthanasia on animals to specific conditions such as captured, abandoned, or recovered dogs that are potential threats to human life. Where there is sufficient evidence to believe that such dogs are potentially dangerous or have been affected by severe or incurable diseases, the law allows for euthanasia (Fawcett et al., 2018). However, the owner and the veterinarian must agree that euthanasia is necessary to avoid further suffering, especially when the disease cannot cure the disease.
Ethical dilemmas often influence the decision-making of many stakeholders involved in a particular action. In the current example, euthanasia for fixable animal decisions impacts key stakeholders such as the owner, the veterinarian, the policymakers, and the people attached to the pet in different ways (Hartman et al., 2020). The owner will be impacted by the decision to see the dog's life terminated, hence losing the emotional attachment with the pet. The owner is likely to be more affected by any other stakeholder. The veterinary will be affected due to the potential ethical dilemma he is expected to face. In this case, it becomes complicated for the veterinarian to decide that is considerate to the animal right and the owner's right to decide for the animal (Hartman et al., 2020).
Whether human or animal life, life is valuable and should be respected. Although humans have rights over some animals, the decision to end the life of dogs or other pets is a violation of their right to live. The need to preserve animal life is a value that seems so compelling and should not be taken lightly (Fawcett et al., 2018). Ethically, it is wrong to decide on behalf of animals, although animals cannot talk or make decisions. There is a public debate that animals are unconscious and do not have a future. This gives human beings the authority and responsibility to take care of animals and decide on their behalf. However, making decisions, especially death, on behalf of animals is a serious, compelling ethical issue. It puts the veterinarian in an awkward situation where they cannot make a moral decision.
The first solution to euthanasia of fixable animals as an ethical dilemma in veterinary practices is to comply with the ethical frameworks. These frameworks have been developed to provide an appropriate and effective way to be used by veterinarians to solve a moral dilemma. Hernandez et al. (2018) observe that it has become complicated to reach an ethical decision during an honest debate. Moses et al. (2018) add that considering ethical issues is much easier in human medical practices than in veterinary practice since all human life is equal. In human medical trials, ethical issues are guided by laws that outline acceptable. However, dealing with ethical dilemmas in veterinary practices is more challenging due to the lack of explicit legal provisions. Therefore, veterinarians can rely on ethical frameworks to address ethical dilemmas such as animal euthanasia (Fawcett et al., 2018). The primary purpose of ethical frameworks is to guide ethical decision-making.
The owner and the veterinarian should have a formal conversation and effective communication to improve understanding and reduce the stress or moral distress associated with an ethical dilemma (Hartman et al., 2020). Through this conversation, both the vet and the owner can identify all the potential treatment courses and choose one that will relieve the animal of the pain it is experiencing (Fawcett et al., 2018). Communication and involvement of the owner in the decision-making are essential for reaching an ethical decision and reducing the potential ethical dilemma. It will also lead to the assessment of the interest of the affected party and will lead to an improved decision. The veterinarian must ensure that euthanasia on animals, especially those curable, is the last medical action.
Ethical dilemmas frequently emerge in veterinarian practices. One of the most frequently reported ethical issues is the euthanasia of a fixable animal. This is where the owner requests the veterinarian for the euthanasia of his pet, giving different reasons to justify it. The owner may request euthanasia to protect the animal from pain or useless suffering. However, the veterinarian may disagree if the animal condition can be treated. In such an ethical dilemma, the veterinarian should rely on ethical frameworks to make the ethical decision and ensure that the owner is involved in the decision-making process.
Fawcett, A., Mullan, S., & McGreevy, P. (2018). Application of Fraser's "Practical" Ethic in Veterinary Practice, and Its Compatibility with a "One Welfare" Framework. Animals: an open-access journal from MDPI, 8 (7), 109. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani8070109
Hartman, L. P., & DesJardins, J. R. (2017). Business ethics: Decision making for personal integrity and social responsibility. McGraw-Hill Education.
Hernandez, E., Fawcett, A., Brouwer, E., Rau, J., & Turner, P. V. (2018). Speaking Up: Veterinary Ethical Responsibilities and Animal Welfare Issues in Everyday Practice. Animals : an open-access journal from MDPI, 8 (1), 15. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani8010015
Moses, L., Malowney, M. J., & Wesley Boyd, J. (2018). Ethical conflict and moral distress in veterinary practice: A survey of North American veterinarians. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, 32 (6), 2115-2122. https://doi.org/10.1111/jvim.15315
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- Mourine Atsien (Author), 2022, An ethical business decision in veterinary practice: Euthanasia of a “Fixable” Animal, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1326027
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