Archive for the ‘terminal’ tag
As an ethical vegan, I spend my life trying to avoid the death of animals. Every day I have to ensure as much as possible that the things I do, eat, and wear do not adversely affect the voiceless in my care or beyond. I exercise my dogs, make sure the chickens get fed, and spend a silly amount of time relocating wild baby frogs from my basement to the garden.
So what do I do when an animal in my care falls ill with no hope of recovery? Is it possible that a caring, nurturing vegan like me can be responsible for ending the life of an animal before his or her natural lifespan is done? Can it be right to choose death for an animal in my care?
A Dignified End?
Many years ago I accidentally fell into a job in a nursing home. My family, knowing my squeamishness, gave it a week, which was about four days longer than I thought I’d last.
In the end I stayed there two years, surprising myself more than anybody else. I believe this was one of the most important jobs I’ve ever held: It taught me the value in age and wisdom, and that people in their 80’s have incredible tales of love, passion, and war. The men and women for whom I cared are some of the most interesting people I have ever met, and I will be forever grateful for having been able to spend time with them.
But along with the colorful language and tales from the battlefields, I learnt something much less appealing: Dying is rarely painless and dignified. I do not recall many going ‘gently into that good night.’
Not Much Of A Choice
Many of us have experienced the sadness and pain of watching an animal we love start to go downhill. For some it may happen very quickly—within hours, perhaps—and for others it could be an illness spanning months, maybe years. Whatever the time lapse, there may well come a point where we have to make one of the most difficult decisions of our lives: whether to euthanize an animal, or let nature take its course and hope that the end comes quickly and without prolonged suffering.
It’s not much of a choice, is it? The decision to let your animal die, or to let him or her live and suffer, is a heavy burden to bear, but one I believe we all accept when we agree to care for an animal. For those of us who spend our lives trying to keep animals alive, we enter a moral maze when faced with the dilemma to end a life.
The Guilt That Follows
We are lucky that we have animals in our lives. I never take for granted that I share my life with dogs, and I am always in awe of them and happy to share what I have with them. I believe that we make a pact with an animal the moment we decide to care for him or her. We agree to offer food and water, provide appropriate living conditions, and care for them in sickness and in health. We have a duty to prevent suffering in its many forms, and that includes, to the greatest extent possible, painful and terminal illness or injury.
Anybody who has had to make the decision may be familiar with the emotions that follow euthanasia, the most common one being guilt. Regardless of whether you live a vegan lifestyle, to choose to end a life can leave many feeling that they have betrayed their companion. Guilt is a normal and common part of this type of grieving, and it is always difficult to reconcile one’s love for the animal with the decision to end his or her life.
The Deal We Make
Part of loving someone is the obligation to help when things get hard. You will understand your need to take action when the other life no longer can. For many humans, this is a right that is being fought for in every court in the land. For animals, it is probably the one right they have that we humans do not. Whether that is right or wrong is an article for another time, in another publication, but for the voiceless animals who do have this right, you will still need to act on their behalf.
If and when you have to make this difficult decision, as someone who supports the health and wellbeing of all animals and understands your animal better than anyone else, take comfort in knowing that whatever you decide, you will always do what is best for your friend, no matter how difficult that makes life for you.
For support following the death or loss of a companion animal please follow this link. There is a telephone service for UK residents and an email service for those both in the UK and the rest of the world.
Sally-Anne Ryan is an artist and writer living in the UK. She shares her home with one rooster, two guinea pigs, three horses, four pigs, five dogs and ten chickens. She also volunteers with The Blue Cross, supporting people following the death of a companion animal.