Monday, November 21, 2011

Changing the Language of Euthanasia

     Somewhere along the line, euthanasia came to be discussed as "a gift" - the final gift, the most generous gift, the most compassionate gift, the ultimate gift.  This term has so worked its way into our language that we now accept the idea that this is something we not only can, but must do for our animals as loving, compassionate caretakers.

     On the other hand, some who wish for a hospice-assisted natural death at home view euthanasia as a failure on the part of themselves, their veterinary team, their hospice team or society in general.  They agonize over having made a euthanasia decision and feel crushed if they are unable to provide the kind of natural home death they envisioned or had experienced with another animal.

     We at New England Pet Hospice feel that such value-laden terms are not helpful and can actually be harmful.  Euthanasia is neither inherently "good" nor inherently "bad"
Euthanasia is a tool we have to aid our animals at a time when we feel nothing else can - or should - be done.  When we feel our animals would prefer to pass from this world than continue living in the conditions we are able to provide.

     Using the gift language changes the whole discussion.  What's wrong with you that you do not wish to euthanize?  Is your animal unworthy of this great gift?  Are you too stingy or too selfish to give it?  How can you not see this act as the ultimate compassionate act?

     In our view, these are all the wrong questions.  We trust that you want what is best for your animal and we trust that you know your animal and his or her needs better than anyone.  We know that there is no one better than you, who have shared your home and your life with this being, to judge when and if he or she wishes his or her life to end with your help.

     Gift-language creates pressure, injects self-doubt, and has a patronizing tone of reproach.  It obscures the only question we think you should be asking at this time:

Does my animal want to live?

     Our animals live in the moment.  They appreciate the here and now, the moments they have with us, the comfort of their home, the love surrounding them.  When we stop thinking of euthanasia as a good or bad thing, as a gift or a failure, we are able to focus on what matters and make the decision that best serves the needs of our animals, without guilt, without shame, without doubt.  We are able to see our animal as he or she is now, benefiting from the best we can give him or her, and give ourselves permission to make a decision when it is necessary instead of based on too many what-ifs and supposed-tos.  When we allow our inner knowing to guide our decisions, we make the choice that is true and genuine for our animals.  We recognize that there is no answer that is right for every animal and we honor our animals as the unique, special and individual beings they truly are.

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