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Author: Paul Waldau

Euthanasia is one of the most important services veterinarians can render to patients and clients. It is an inevitable, and essential, part of veterinary practice. Performed properly, it is a very special gift. Botched, it is traumatic to all involved. The goal of this lecture is to introduce students to the broad range of issues surrounding euthanasia—from technical issues to controversies about the role of euthanasia in veterinary medicine and society. We will discuss definitions of euthanasia, the critical regulatory role of the AVMA panel report on euthanasia, the importance of selecting a method and agent appropriate for age and species, our responsibility to nonhuman animals, clients, and society, and, if we have time, the emerging concept of veterinary hospice.

We will conclude in the second hour with a wide-ranging discussion.

In general, veterinarians receive very little formal instruction in euthanasia. In 2006, TCSVM, in response to a student-led initiative, modified its core curriculum for the third year to include for the first time a required course on euthanasia. Student input in this area is but one example of the many ways in which student interests and values continue to shape veterinary education.

This lecture may be the first step toward your education about euthanasia, or it may be merely one additional step in a long journey on this topic that you began years ago. Whatever your familiarity with this topic, we ask students to raise issues they have experienced personally. And, as we do throughout the Ethics and Values Signature Program, we ask in this session for wide-spread student participation. The collective experience and angst of those in our community regarding this topic are, without exaggeration, a great resource for seeing how this community and the veterinary profession might generally carry out this profoundly important procedure.

Throughout your year(s) here at the School of Veterinary Medicine, we ask that you continue in your efforts to learn about euthanasia issues—doing so will ensure the best possible level of attention to this complex issue throughout the DVM and other graduate program curricula. We hope this will help future veterinarians be better prepared to deal with the wide range of situations they will encounter in their professional careers. We also hope that this general approach to responsible handling of euthanasia will stimulate you to think about these issues, and to participate in your profession’s continuing effort to use this awesome power wisely.

1. Readings

  • Euthanasia—Clarifying Basic Issues - Click here for PDF

  • 2000 Report of the AVMA Panel on Euthanasia

    Reading Assignment (Reflection Journal)

2. Reading Assignment (Reflection Journal)

Due at beginning of next session

Looking Back —What is your opinion regarding:

  • the role(s) to be taken by individual veterinarians in addressing the moral issues involved in euthanasia of healthy animals?

  • the role(s) of veterinary education in raising this issue; and,

  • possible role(s) that can be taken by the veterinary profession as a whole in this area?

Looking Forward —What has been your experience of the connection between violence against humans, on the one hand, and violence against nonhumans, on the other?