Saturday, September 22, 2012


I've been on an emotional roller coaster all week, culminating with the euthanasia of a beloved pet.  Sometimes I wish I could fantasize life "on the other side" for loved ones, but this dog was a real momma's boy.  Non-existence is by far preferable to waiting decades for me to find him on the other side of the "Rainbow Bridge."  Not to mention, he'd have to compete with my other lost pets for my attention.  Tough on me, though.

Because I've been involved in pet rescue and I'm a big fan of one special breed, I have a lot of internet buddies and real-life friends who share my love for the breed and for rescue.  We often don't share much else, though.  So...  I just say "thank you" when they invoke the Rainbow Bridge or tell me they'll pray for me.

Making the decision to euthanize is one of those tough times when being a rationalist is really inconvenient.  As much as I admire the scientific method and need to know the whole truth of my pet's medical condition, I don't want to let go. If you've followed this blog you know that I've been reading books about decisions and beliefs (just started reading yet another one!).  So besides feeling this pull I have the self-awareness of the reasons for my conflicting feelings. 

Fortunately the specialist vet I eventually went to (at 1:00 a.m.!) gave me the whole ugly truth, more than the other two vets I'd seen in the previous two days.  We could do the procedure, which was expensive but affordable for me, but it probably wouldn't make much of a difference and there were specific reasons why it might not even be possible to do it successfully.  The gambler in me wanted to try anyway.  The amygdala is in control of that part and said "DO ANYTHING TO SAVE HIM EVEN IF THERE'S A 5% CHANCE!"  Then the prefrontal cortex stepped in and said "Save the money and use it to rescue the next one.  You've done all you can reasonably do for this dog and it's his time."

Fortunately at that hour the vet hospital didn't need the exam room I was in so I had plenty of time to think it through.  Or feel it through, as the case may be.  When I put him up on his feet and let him walk around for awhile I could tell that he was suffering even though he still had that *spark* of life and his mind was still with me.  An he still wanted to be with me, but I hated that he was suffering, and I couldn't bear to give him only temporary relief only to feel the same way or worse later.  After all the tug-of-war between dreading his loss and knowing the "science" of why it was necessary, in the end compassion took over.

So I called the vet on the intercom and told her I was ready to let him go.  We talked about euthanasia in general and I told her I've met people who became vet techs (veterinary nurses) because they didn't want to do euthanasias.  She responded that she believes she's doing a service, and I had to agree.  Then I blurted out "I wish we could do this for people" while she was giving my dog his first injection.

I have said this a few times before in random places and it generally makes people queasy.  This is the first time someone agreed with me.  She gave me a hug when it was over and told me she understood.  I kind of wonder if she also understood how hard it is to believe in euthanasia for people in our society.  We allow doctors to withhold food or remove "life support" or obey Do Not Resucitate orders and religious objections to life-saving care, but we don't allow them to "humanely" euthanize people.

For a time the Hemlock Society got a lot of attention, but all the right-to-die debates of the last century seem to have been quashed by the religious right.  No more "Doctor Death" debates since Kevorkian went to prison.  The question seems to have been settled. Mass murderers get euthanized by injection because it's "humane" but someone who's never harmed anyone has to suffer in agony until "nature takes its course."

As a society we need to consult all the parts of our collective conscious: our knee-jerk but ultimately selfish "NO!" response to the prospect of losing loved ones, the "death panel" in our collective subconscious that decides when additional intervention would be fruitless, and the compassionate part, which worries more about how the dying person feels than about how we would feel about letting them go.

Christians and other believers ask how we atheists can know what's right without an "objective morality" to consult.  In some cases there is indeed an objective morality:  ask yourself what is the objective of each possible course?  Is it selfish or compassionate?


krissthesexyatheist said...

I know it's hard, but if dude was suffering, know. G-luck.


LadyAtheist said...

Thanks bro. Yes, he was. I'm carrying on.

Nikki said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your dog. I have two of my own right now, and have been through the euthanasia decision with others. It's never easy, but I do think we know them and know when it's time. No doubt you made the right decision.

Regarding the human euthanasia issue, there's a great documentary floating around HBO called "How to Die in Oregon," where medically assisted suicide is legal. It's heartbreaking in a way, but so groundbreaking at the same time.