Ethical Theories and Convenience Euthanasia
Convenience Euthanasia is very common in the veterinary field. As an undergraduate student in an animal science/pre-veterinarian major and a person who volunteered for several years in different animal hospitals, I have witnessed several pet owners desiring convenience euthanasia. A main topic of discussion is the ethical and moral views behind the acts of convenience euthanasia. Convenience Euthanasia is defined as the “…euthanasia of a physically and psychologically healthy animal…” (Rathwell-Deault, Godard, Frank, & Doize, 2017) yet convenience euthanasia is not only used with healthy animals. Convenience Euthanasia can be used when an owner is not willing to pay for the pet’s treatment, wants to put pet down because owner cannot take care of the pet, or owner cannot afford the pet’s treatment.
There are so many reasons to why convenience Euthanasia is a dilemma, no one enjoys feeling rejected and not wanted, so why would we not expect pets to feel the same way. It is sad that one could desire to put their pet down just because they cannot take care of them while someone else would love to take care of them. Moreover, veterinarians should still respect owner’s desires. Now that we have a better understanding of what is the dilemma, I will be discussing Kantian Ethics, Virtue Ethics, and Consequentialism to the topic of Convenience Euthanasia to better understand if this method of practice is ethical and justified.
Kantian Ethics is the ethical idea that our actions must be justified and no matter how much personal gain an action brings, they are wrong if these actions are unfair or unjust (Shafer-Landau, 2018, p.159). When we apply Kantian ethics to Convenience Euthanasia, Convenience Euthanasia seems to be moral, ethical, and a justified option. If we imagine a scenario where an owner comes in with their sick pet and has a hard time paying for a doctor’s exam in the first place. The veterinarian notices a pet’s stomach is bloated and requires an x-ray. The owner says they do not want to pay for an x-ray and they are just here to know why has their pet’s stomach has been bloated for the past months. From the owners’ perspective, they want to know the issue without having to pay more money. From the veterinarian’s perspective, they cannot identify what is the exact issue without an x-ray. If we assume from the kindness of the veterinarian’s heart the owner gets a discounted x-ray on their pet.
Now that the veterinarian knows the exact issue, it turns out that there might be a big problem or a tumor that would require lab work and more expensive medical practices. Since the owners were not willing to pay for the simple examination it is obvious they will not be willing to pay for the expenses of the medical procedure for the pet. Moreover, the owner does not want to pay for the expenses for their pet’s survival because they have more important expenses to pay for themselves. Therefore, the owner requests Euthanasia. Even though, the veterinarian might not think this is the best option but she/he must respect the owner’s desires. Kantian Ethics cannot take into account personal emotions because emotions can blur an individual’s ability to make justified and fair actions (Carter, 2017). Kantian ethics says that the veterinarian has to do its duty and be just to what her owner requested.
Virtue Ethics is the idea that we focus less on moral duty and concentrate on ideals of character (Shafer-Landau, 2018, p.254). As humans, we should have the capability of making the good right decision and act accordingly to what is justified. This theory “...focuses attention on virtue as a property of character.” (Bright, Winn, & Kanov, 2014). The owners of this pet may see that euthanizing their pet is the right thing to do because it solves their problems and they expect the veterinarian to follow through with their requests. As a result of virtue ethics, they assume the veterinarian to think that euthanasia is also the right thing to do and expect the veterinarian to do so. In this situation, most veterinarians would recommend any alternatives other than Euthanasia because there are other solutions.
A good veterinarian would suggest giving their pet to a shelter, or a loving home, or to any system that would be able to handle the expenses of the pet and give it the care it deserves. Especially that the pet’s issue is curable the veterinarian would not recommend Euthanasia. A requirement of Virtue Ethics in the medical field is “…avoiding temptations to dismiss moral distress…” (McCammon & Brody, 2012). How a veterinarian is capable of handling moral distress or making the decision to use convenience euthanasia in any case depends on their individual character. Some veterinarians would rather obey the commands of the owner than deal with the moral stress of determining if convenience euthanasia is an ethical option. Owners whom do not care enough will see that convenience euthanasia is the answer to their problems but any ordinary veterinarian understands that convenience euthanasia is not the right thing to do and will direct owners to other alternatives.
Consequentialism forces individuals to focus on the future or the end results and allows individuals to make any necessary actions to reach the best end result (Shafer-Landau, 2018, p.120). The best end result for the owner is to just get rid of their problem so they don’t have to deal with it. if the veterinarian decides to euthanize the pet for the owner’s demands then The veterinarian would have to face the consequences of not listening to what He/She thinks is the right thing for the pet nor what is ethical and moral according to the veterinarian’s point of view. On the other hand, if the veterinarian does not euthanize the pet according to what was agreed with the owner then the consequences on the veterinarian would be cheating on the owner and not following the law.
If the veterinary has a consequentialist point of view, they have to agree with owners request and euthanize the dog since it will yield the best results. Consequentialism requires the veterinarian to euthanize the puppy because they have a moral obligation to do something if they are capable of doing it because if they ought to do what will have the best consequences, they can do it (Andri?, 2016). Even though it seems unfair and unjust to put the pet down because its owner does not want to take care of their expenses, consequentialism allows them to do so because it will bring the best results in the end.
Veterinarians are put under ethical stress to determine what is the right decision to make when it comes to Convenience Euthanasia. The final decisions that the veterinarian makes is based off of their understanding of ethical theories. Kantian Ethics claims that convenience euthanasia is the right thing to do, Virtue Ethics portrays that the decision of convenience euthanasia depends on personal character, and Consequentialism expresses convenience euthanasia as the best option that will give the best results. There are several other options to convenience euthanasia such as simply giving the animal to a shelter, but several owners are uneducated and are not aware of these options. Some veterinarians may not want to deal with the stress of making the decision themselves and make the owners happy, but Veterinarians have the duty to keep animals alive for as long as humanely possible. If the owners cannot pay for medical care, the veterinarian is responsible for directing the owners to other options if the dog is not terminally ill and dying. If the owner is willing to give the dog to a shelter or to another family that can afford medical care, it is a much better option than convenience euthanasia.
Andri?, V. (2016). Is Objective Consequentialism Compatible with the Principle that “Ought” Implies “Can”? Philosophia 44(1), 63-77.
Bright, D., Winn, S., & Kanov, B. (2014). Reconsidering Virtue: Differences of Perspective in Virtue Ethics and the Positive Social Sciences. Journal of Business Ethics, 119(4), 445-460.
Carter, S. (2017). A Kantian ethics approach to moral bioenhancement. Bioethics, 31(9), 683 690.
McCammon, S., & Brody, D. (2012). How Virtue Ethics Informs Medical Professionalism. HEC Forum, 24(4), 257-272.
Rathwell-Deault, D., Godard, B., Frank, D., & Doize, D. (2017). Expected consequences of convenience euthanasia perceived by veterinarians in Quebec. Canadian Veterinary Journal-Revue Veterinaire Canadienne, 58(7), 723-728.
Shafer-Landau, R. (2018). The Fundamentals of Ethics (3th ed.) New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.