Veterinarians’ and physicians’ attitude to euthanasia

The most recent contribution from the Ordem dos Médicos, the Portuguese professional organization for physicians, to the ongoing political discussion of legalizing euthanasia was to state that they would in no way engage with the process. Of course, the discussion of euthanasia in human medicine is beyond the scope of this blog, and Animalogues is not the right place to share my personal thoughts about something that is not part of my professional consideration.

But I will take the opportunity to share a paper that I find highly relevant in the context.

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This paper, published in Journal of Medical Ethics in 2010, reports the results of a questionnaire to Swedish veterinary surgeons in 2008. It’s part of a larger body of work on attitudes to physician-assisted suicide by two of the co-authors, Lindblad and Lynöe, which also includes surveys to physicians and to the general public in Sweden.

Why would medical ethicists be interested in what veterinarians think about physician-assisted suicide in human medicine? This interest has to do with the argument sometimes presented by physicians that “less experienced physicians and the general public do not know what they are actually reasoning about when dealing with end of life issues”. But unlike medical doctors in Sweden, where euthanasia is illegal, vets regularly perform active euthanasia as part of their professional practice. Hence it can be argued that a veterinarian, at least to some extent, knows more about euthanasia than a physician.

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Perhaps unexpectedly, it turned out that veterinarians’ attitude to physician-assisted suicide is comparable to that of the general public rather than that of physicians.

The authors conclude that “Similar to the general public, most Swedish veterinary surgeons are in favour of PAS. Since veterinary surgeons have long experience of performing euthanasia in animals it seems difficult to assert that they do not understand what it means to provide PAS at the request of a terminally ill and competent patient. Accordingly, it is difficult to maintain that knowledge about PAS and euthanasia is unambiguously associated with a restrictive attitude towards these measures”.

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