Animal Euthanasia is Not “Death with Dignity”

Opinion   |   Wesley J. Smith   |   Dec 12, 2013   |   2:53PM   |   Washington, DC

There have been a spate of animal hospice stories out recently, which have exhibited a minor tendency to conflate human hospice standards with that appropriate for animals. So, I think a bit of clarification may be warranted.

Veterinary and animal husbandry are different from medicine and the care of human patients: Different standards and ethics apply. Pet owners have a duty–based on both love and human exceptionalism–to treat their animals properly and humanely, including the difficult task of putting them down when the very sad moment for lethality arrives.

With the popularity of pets growing, some veterinarians have started pet hospices that provide care for very sick pets, and eventually, euthanasia–the latter of which is essentially called “death with dignity” in this San Francisco Chronicle story:

After Andy [the cat] developed liver disease, [owner] Kelley sought the support of the hospice veterinarian, who came to his home, listened to him talk about his cat and eventually allowed Andy to die with dignity.

No. the cat did not “die with dignity,” a sensibility animals don’t have in the same way as humans. Moreover, animals are incapable of consenting. We decide out of human duty–and often, as in the case reported above, out of deep love.

I bring this up because the “dignity” phrase is wrongly and ubiquitously applied as an advocacy slogan to push assisted suicide and human euthanasia. Thus, it was right to euthanize Andy, but would be wrong to do so to Kelley. Different standards of care and morality apply to animals and people.

Here are the pet hospice services:

Lap of Love is the first organized group of its kind in the country, said Colleen Ellis, director of the International Association for Animal Hospice and Palliative Care. The group helps with the last hours of life and the first hours of death of animals… The association says there are many vets, vet techs and even a Northern California animal sanctuary that take in terminally ill or elderly pets for hospice care and, eventually, euthanasia… “Veterinarian hospice care is a lot like human hospice care. The goal is comfort. We are not trying to cure, just manage the symptoms so that they are as comfortable as possible,” McVety said. “Vet hospice is where human hospice was 50 or 60 years ago.”

That’s great! But note that animal hospice also differs dramatically from human hospice precisely because the former properly includes euthanasia.



But killing the sick is diametrically opposed to the hospice philosophy established by founder, the late Dame Cecily Saunders, who rightly saw assisted suicide as a blatant denial of the equal dignity of hospice patients.

I am all for caring lovingly and humanely for dying animals. But we shouldn’t confuse that with human hospice. They are not the same. Note: Wesley J. Smith, J.D., is a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture and a bioethics attorney who blogs at Human Exeptionalism.