Posts Tagged Euthanasia

I Volunteer!

All manner of information has been published recently about the benefits of volunteering. As I appear to have a bit of time on my hands at the moment I thought I would give it a try. As part of the appeal of volunteering is to get out into the big wide world and do something practical I approached the State Emergency Service (SES) first up. I have long thought of putting my hand up with the Country Fire Authority (CFA), who do a fantastic job every summer, but my too close for comfort experience with the Black Saturday bushfires put me off that idea. Besides, the SES appear to offer more variety, cutting trapped people out of smashed cars, pulling trees off houses, etc. So I gave them a call and the woman I spoke with said she would pass my name on to my local representative. If they had not got in touch with me after a few weeks, call again. This did not strike me as the sort of organisation that was tripping over itself to get new helpers. I felt a bit discouraged with the lukewarm response to my offer and, needless to say, I have not heard a thing since my phone call.

Being a veterinarian I thought Birdlife Australia might be useful. I have experience with mist netting, bird banding and handling. I even joined up as a member. While I was pointed at a couple of subsidiary groups within Birdlife Australia the person I was suggested to email about volunteering my services has also declined to respond.

How about a nice conservation organisation? Unfortunately World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and others are all based in Sydney, so I tried Friends of the Earth. I used to frequent their shop as a student to buy my groceries each week and I thought that a regular spot helping out there would be useful. I filled in their form, registered my interest and have heard nothing since.

I contacted Kiva, the microloan organisation, as they need people to vet their loan applications. Thank you for your interest. You have been placed on our waiting list.

Perhaps I should try something specifically veterinary? Vets Beyond Borders run several programs in India sterilising street dogs. Unfortunately these places have a “no euthanasia” policy, presumably on some kind of strange religious grounds (as an aside, my wife met a Cambodian Buddhist at her book club the other week. She was most surprised to discover that it was okay from him to eat meat as long as he did not kill it himself. An interesting loophole that can be exploited by any carnivores who are contemplating Buddhism). Recently I watched a program featuring Luke Gamble, a vet working with Worldwide Veterinary Services (WVS). He visited an animal refuge in India. The entire place was full of paralysed, emaciated dogs dragging themselves around on their back ends, with various limb ulcers that needed constant bandaging. The Dutch woman who ran the place refused to entertain the notion that most of these dogs were in constant pain, had no quality of life and should be euthanased. I don’t think I could work in that sort of hypocritical environment that promotes animal welfare without acknowledging that, sometimes, animal welfare can best be promoted through euthanasia.

I thought about volunteering with WVS. Unfortunately many of their placements require a significant time commitment, while others, like Earthwatch, expect you to pay for the privilege of helping them out. Is it not enough that I am prepared to forgo payment and cover my own costs without having to pay to work too?

Perhaps I am just being too picky but, I must admit, I have been quite surprised at the sort of lukewarm (ice cold) responses I have received. Most organisations appear more than happy to accept donations of money but seem curiously unenthusiastic about donations of time. Maybe I should just go and plant some trees?

Dr. F. Bunny

 

 

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Here Puss, Puss, Puss II

I read a recent blog post highlighting the feral cat problem in Hawaii (http://rumpydog.com/2014/08/14/so-hawaii-wants-to-kill-cats/). The post mentioned a paper published in Conservation Biology which indicated that Hawaiian residents preferred euthanasia over trap-neuter-release (TNR) programs when it came to feral cat management (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/cobi.12201/abstract;jsessionid=FB4AAB1970A118DB0073E69D40924627.f01t04?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&userIsAuthenticated=false). This study was criticised as being flawed and its findings erroneous by Vox Felina, a group that supports TNR (http://www.voxfelina.com/2014/08/a-response-to-lohr-and-lepczyk/).

Whether or not the Conservation Biology study is flawed is irrelevant. What the residents of Hawaii prefer in this regard is also irrelevant. The fact remains, feral cats should not be present on Hawaii. They were introduced in the 1800s and have caused untold destruction to the native bird life since then. These species, like the birds of New Zealand, evolved without the presence of predators and are ill equipped to deal with them. Neutered cats kill just as many birds as cats that have not been neutered.

The debate over TNR and euthanasia only occurs because we have an emotional attachment to cats that has evolved over many hundreds of years. No one appears to be advocating TNR programs for the possums of New Zealand, the rabbits of Australia or the brown tree snakes running rampant on Guam. Why the inconsistency? All four groups of animals are feral and cause untold damage to their new environments, environments which will only recover properly if these animals are completely removed. The only way the New Zealanders were able to successfully reintroduce any of their endangered birds to their offshore islands was to remove every last cat.

As well as the predation issue cats also carry toxoplasmosis. This disease is caused by a small parasite that needs cats to complete its life cycle. It causes no disease in cats but has killed alala (Corvus hawaiiensis), nene (Hawaiian goose; Branta sandvicensis), red-footed boobies (Sula sula) and even the endangered Hawaiian monk seal (Monachus schauinslandi). Toxoplasmosis is also a zoonosis, posing health risks for pregnant women and immunocompromised people (http://www.usgs.gov/ecosystems/pierc/files/factsheets/cats.pdf).

Unfortunately as long as there are feral cats running around the Hawaiian Islands, its bird species will be at risk of extinction. No TNR programs will remedy that. The only remedy is to remove the cats from the environment. Anything else is nonsensical.

Dr. F. Bunny

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Playing God

I find it intriguing that when certain groups of people don’t like something, like stem cell research or euthanasia, they deride it by saying the proponents are, “playing God”. This is presumably because the proposal is attempting to tamper with the “natural” order of things. What I don’t hear is very many people invoking the “playing God” concept when it is their own child with a broken bone that needs mending or a prescription of antibiotics for their own very sore throat. Surely every time a doctor does anything to alleviate suffering he is “playing God” by interfering with the natural course of events?

Personally, I don’t have a problem with this as I don’t see God joining in the game. It seems a bit churlish that, just because they are his toys and he refuses to play with them, we aren’t allowed to either.

Dr. F. Bunny

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Fade To Black

“So Much For That”, the Lionel Shriver book I finished recently, featured a character who decided he had had enough and put a full stop to his life sentence, at least partly because of a botched penis lengthening procedure. It really was as silly as it sounds.

Being male he did it by putting a gun in his mouth and pulling the trigger, splattering much of the contents of his head all over the family kitchen. This got me thinking that, no matter how miserable you are and no matter how bad you think your life is, spare a thought for those that will find your body and have to clean the mess up afterwards. If you choose to do it in your own home this will likely be one of your beloved family members. In this case it was his wife and daughter. Who wants the final image of their husband/father to be one of him lying on the kitchen floor with half his head missing, blood, brains and bone having sprayed everywhere? Do you know how hard it is to get blood out of curtains? Needless to say the wife refused to enter the kitchen ever again and wound up selling the house. But who wants to buy a house with a history like that? I can just imagine the new home owners finding a bit of skull under the fridge several months after moving in. So, if you must flush your life down the drain, at least have some consideration about how and where you do it.

Veterinarians have one of the highest suicide rates of any profession (1.54 times the average). I believe there are two reasons for this. I can’t say I am much of a Jeremy Clarkson fan but I believe he hit the nail on the head when he said that people become veterinarians because they have a love of and affinity for other species. They want to devote their lives to helping animals and mitigating suffering. Unfortunately a lot of that relief comes in the form of euthanasia. Don’t get me wrong. I would much rather euthanase a terminally ill, suffering animal than have it go through months of pain and anguish, the way we allow people to. But all that death takes its toll after a while. Years ago I spent six months working at the RSPCA. The number of cruelty cases I saw and the number of animals I had to euthanase, some quite healthy, simply because we had no room was almost enough to drive me to join them. While the RSPCA performs a vital function six months was more than enough for me.

The second reason is that if a veterinarian decides to end his life he will probably succeed. Veterinarians obviously have an excellent command of physiology and have all sorts of lethal drugs available, one of which is etorphine, an incredibly powerful anaesthetic used to immobilise animals like elephants and rhinos. It is rumoured that one scratch from a needle dipped in etorphine is enough to kill. The drug is rigidly controlled and only veterinarians working with these animals can gain access to it, but I did have a friend who used it to end his own life. He did it because of the aggressive bone cancer that was spreading up his leg, but his profession gave him access to the means.

Even regular veterinarians have shelves full of pentobarbitone, the drug of choice for euthanasing dogs and cats. I have heard more than one story of a veterinarian hooking himself up to an IV line, connecting the line to a bottle of pentobarbitone and then slowly going to sleep as the drug ran into his body. No doubt it is a very peaceful way to go.

The flipside of all this doom and gloom is that veterinary medicine also provides some pretty amazing highs. Seeing that falcon that came into the clinic with a broken wing fly off into the sunset is close to the top of my list, not mention the quoll with the really bad skin condition I saw recently that now appears to have made a miraculous recovery.

Dr. F. Bunny

 

Quoll without its skin condition

Quoll without its skin condition

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Marius

Unfortunately zoos all over the world generate surplus animals. What they don’t do is kill healthy 18 month old giraffes, like Marius at the Copenhagen zoo (http://www.euronews.com/2014/02/10/slaughter-of-marius-the-copenhagen-giraffe-prompts-online-outrage/).

Organisations such as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in North America and the Zoo and Aquarium Association in Australasia develop studbooks for their species to regulate breeding to maximise genetic diversity. If an animal’s genes become over represented in the zoo population that animal can be contracepted. There is nothing unique about giraffes. They can be castrated like any other animal or animals can be separated to avoid inappropriate pairings. The issue with Marius really started over two years ago. If his genes were over represented why were his parents allowed to breed, and why wait until the giraffe is 18 months old before euthanasing him?

Zoos are too small to be treated individually. Instead they form part of a global collective that constantly moves animals around to maximise breeding effectiveness. Zoos regularly release lists of animals that they want and that they have on surplus. The zoos I have worked for frequently move their surplus animals to other zoos that want them. I do not understand why this could not have been done with Marius as a British zoo made a place available to him.

Many animals become surplus because of their advancing years. The other members of the group kick them out or they are no longer reproductively viable and so are removed to live out the rest of their years in isolation off display. In the wild they would be killed by predators. The zoos I have worked for no longer have a policy of management euthanasia, unless animal welfare is at stake. This does, however, raise a difficult point when it comes to herd animals. Is it better to keep them in social isolation for the rest of their lives, or is it better to euthanase them?

This was hardly the case with Marius and a more enlightened solution to the “problem” caused by a young healthy giraffe could surely have been found.

Dr. F. Bunny

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The Good Death

This is the literal definition of euthanasia. It is a tool available to veterinarians, but not to medicos. I view it as another way to alleviate suffering. We cannot “do no harm” if we do not use all means at our disposal to relieve suffering. It is a great pity that, apart from a few enlightened countries like the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg euthanasia is not an option to end human suffering. While my mother was dying of cancer there was a giraffe in a zoo that was in considerable pain because of chronic arthritis. Ironically the giraffe was euthanased and died peacefully and gracefully while my mother was given “palliative” care as she slowly wasted away and eventually died anything but peacefully or gracefully. Had I treated the giraffe as my mother was treated I would likely, and rightly, have been brought before the Veterinary Board for prolonging the giraffe’s suffering. It seems incongruous to me that this ability to end life with dignity should be available to all but our own species. What possible purpose can there be to senselessly prolong a life that is full of nothing but suffering with no prospect of recovery? I am lucky enough to work in a profession that allows me this choice rather than the option of sitting back and doing nothing apart from mumbling meaningless platitudes to obviously distressed family members.

Dr. F. Bunny

For more information on euthanasia visit http://www.euthanasia.com/

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