We euthanize our pets. Why not people too?

My grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s two years ago, and has gone on a rapid downward spiral since then, going from independent living to round-the-clock nursing care in an “assisted living” facility. By last week, he’d lost nearly all speech and bowel functions, and it’s hard to tell if he could actually recognize family members anymore. He’s also got Parkinson’s, and while the nursing staff does their best to keep him in a wheelchair, it seems like every other week he’s off to the emergency room to get stitched up from yet another fall.

Last week, he took another tumble and struck his head – but this time, he wound up with a hematoma in his brain and he’s currently in a coma. The hospital says that he’s unlikely to recover, considering his age and advanced illness.

Luckily, he had the foresight to make out a living will with a DNR order. Problem is, there’s no plug to pull – he’s breathing on his own (with the aid of passive oxygen) and the only I.V. he’s hooked up to is the one providing nutrients (as far as I know…I know they took him off antibiotics yesterday.) Right now, the family’s looking into whether the DNR covers a feeding tube or not.

This whole situation sickens me. If he were a dog or a cat or a horse or a muskrat, he would have been “put down” years ago. After all, it’s the “humane” thing to do.

But, when it comes to human beings, the only options are to (1) keep him alive with I.V.'s until nature takes its course, or (2) remove all sustenance and let him starve to death (if that’s even allowable…remember that lady in Clearwater?) While comatose, he will still open his eyes sometimes, and it’s anyone’s guess just how much physical / mental / emotional pain he’s aware of right now.

So what is it with our society that says a pet dog can get a dose of the pink gooey stuff, but an elderly family member must be left to suffer? This could go on for weeks, even months. Just look at Ronald Reagan. I heard on CNN that Nancy’s nearly destroyed herself emotionally & physically from taking care of him all these years. Wouldn’t it be more compassionate, more dignified, to hook these people up to Dr. Kevorkian’s machine, when there’s CLEARLY no quality of life remaining, and allow their loved ones to get on with the rest of their lives??

It makes no sense. It just makes no sense. :frowning:

I concur, wholeheartedly. As long as the person is of sound mind and legally able to enter into a contract, I fail to see why he/she should not be allowed to choose to end his/her own life, should the see fit. Nor why such a person should not be able to dictate a “living will” stipulating same, should they become unable to speak for themself directly.

People poke fun at Jack Kevorkian, but I think he has the right idea.

It’s primarily to do with the ‘life is precious’ schtick and that if you desire to die, you are either nuts or severely depressed. In the first case, you should be protected (from yourself), in the second, you must be “restored”/counseled back to normalcy. But I can understand the desire for this attitude. It’s a form of societal survival mechanism. Once you openly acknowledge that a person can make a sane choice to die, the impetus and pretense for life and “progress” gets diminished.

I don’t see the “abuse” argument as a significant factor.

Actually, I’m of the opposite assertion. Both pets and people should live as long as possible, because you should never give up hope.

Well, sure, it’s more “convenient” and less “heart-breaking”, but once they die, that’s it. (Well, barring Heaven or the Resurrection, but this isn’t a post to discuss that.)

I love my grandmother, even if she’s heavy as anything, wakes up at odd hours wanting to go to the bathroom only to come up empty, falls out of her wheelchair even after we explicitely tell her not to move it with her feet, dammitt, talks in this pathetically annoying whiny voice because she has no strength, and is a persistant drain on my parent’s finances. Her value isn’t in her ability to do anything other than live. And who says her life has no meaning even if she’s bound to a wheelchair having us wait on her hand and foot?

And no, I haven’t personally experienced prolonged suffering. Maybe my stance will change when it happens. I hope it doesn’t.

We buy and sell our pets. Why not people too?

I believe in the legalization of euthanasia, your analogy isn’t one of the reasons why.

One more thing…

If the person suffering didn’t make clear his/her wishes, what then? Or, if they made the wish to live, no matter what?

See, what I’m worried about isn’t just the euthanization of elderly, but of all “unsuitable” lifes–the mentally ill, those with disabilities, etc.

Yeah, yeah, slippery slope isn’t the best argument for an idea, but still, it’s kind of chilling that in addition to baking Jews in an oven, Hitler also tried to forcibly weed out the above traits from his so-called “Master Race”.

If we don’t speak up for the weak and helpless, who will speak up when we become the weak and helpless?

Devil’s advocate here but I’ve only ever heard one anti-euthanasia argument with any merit. That is that legalised, voluntary euthanasia will create a situation where some people will feel pressured into electing it only to relieve their families of the burden they perceive themselves to be.

A voluntary euthanasia programme would ideally have some compulsory counseling component where the patient’s real motives and wishes can be more accurately determined. Palliative care professionals develop an excellent feel for such patients’ situations and generally have a good grasp of what is going on behind the scenes. Often, staff, especially the nurses who spend more time with the patient than their family does, have a better understanding and even relationship with the patient than the family has. In my experience, it would be rare for a debilitated, albeit determined, patient to put one over on the counseling and care staff.

The role and structure of a society’s health service also plays an important part. The idea that a patient can be a burden on his family has less weight where universal health care is available. A user-pays, expensive (for the consumer) system will mean a a greater (financial) cost for the family and I can see no way to work around that. The fact is though, most of the countries with SDMB posters do have universal health care. Sadly, most of the SDMB posters themselves don’t have access to such a system. Also sadly, universal health care is an argument that has been done ad nauseum on these boards with very little meeting of the minds. It won’t happen here either.

If we accept the Devil’s Advocate’s position, should the possibility of an occasional, wrongful euthanased end for a patient be the cause for a blanket ban on euthanasia with the undeniably large amount of subsequent suffering it brings? Should the possibility of a minority’s arguably immoral, albeit understandable, decision making prevent many others taking a moral and justified course of action?

We forcibly sterilize our pets, why not people, too?
We put our pets through involuntary breeding programs, why not people, too?

This isn’t analogous because the OP’s question is based on a contradiction: the action is in his opinion a caring one, and yet we ought to care more for people than pets. Your questions do not involve caring or merciful actions, and are therefore at least consistent with holding pets in lower esteem than people. The OP’s point is clearly not that we should do everything to people that we do to animals.

IMO (while I agree with its broader point), the OP’s argument doesn’t really work because I believe it is the lower value placed on pets that is the reason for the acceptance of euthanasia in their case. Since they have a lower perceived value, the moral implications of euthanasia are given less weight relative to the cost of sustaining the animal’s life. Some people may be willing to shell out thousands upon thousands of dollars to buy their pet some more time; the vast majority are not. In a choice between no treatment and euthanasia, euthanasia is left as the most merciful option. With people it’s different; it’s a choice between treatment and euthanasia, which is much more tricky, and much less obvious which is “right”.

While I don’t think your pet = people argument really works, I do see your point. And I agree. In the country (others too), we place a VERY high price on human life. But there is almost no price put on the quality of said life.

Regardless, I don’t feel that the Government should have a say in someones choice to be alive or not, so long as their affairs are in order.

As to people like dotchan, your “hope” that things will get better (and they might) should not automatically trump someone who is suffereing from ending their suffering sooner rather than later. Because they may in fact get better, but they may also get worse, or drag on suffering, being miserable for months or years.

When my Grandmother found out she had cancer she chose not to treat it. She was in her late 80’s, Already could no longer do most of the things she loved (go to the beach being prime), and didn’t want her last days to be brought down by a long spell of sickness from treatment. She led her life her way. I am just glad the goverment couldn’t force chemotherapy on her.

In some cases it seems to me that doctors already do this. When my father was ill with terminal cancer we were given Demerol as a pain reliever. I mentioned to the Dr. that when he was coming out of the Demerol he seemed to be experiencing a little pain and the Dr. replied, “I wouldn’t let him come out.” So we started laying the Demerol on.

I have to believe that the Dr. knew that lying there mostly inert would lead quickly to pneumonia and a relatively quick end, which it did.

Well, I got a call this morning telling me that Grandpa Fred died late last night. Frankly, I’m relieved. I mean, I loved the man and I’ll miss him, but as far as I’m concerned, that man already disappeared months ago. Anyway…

Sometimes I wonder just how aware animals are about their own mortality and their own will to live. Could it be that your dog, old and arthritic and lying on the vet’s table for the last time, is actually thinking: “Noooo!! I waaant to liiiive!!!” In any case, animals can’t communicate their intentions to us, so it’s assumed that when faced with irrevocable pain, it’s merciful to end their suffering. In the case of people who can no longer communicate, though, the perception is reversed – we assume that they want to live, no matter what.

I don’t put much stock in the “always hope” theory some here have put forth. Hope for WHAT?!? That we’ll suddenly learn how to conquer death?? Everyone’s gonna die someday, there’s no way around it. And when you’re talking about a 90 year old person with a disease that literally eats away at your brain until nothing’s left…where’s the “hope” in that??

It’s a bit more of a thorny issue when you’re talking about a much younger person in a coma – but the hard truth is, “miracles” are very rare, and after a certain length of time, practically unheard of. In any case, I think that human life itself is way overvalued. I hope that once I lose my mental faculties, they’ll put me on an ice floe and let me drift out to sea…

Oh, and we DO sterilize humans, all the time. Ever hear of vasectomies or tubal ligations? (Which begs the question…why don’t we give pets vasectomies? Why do we have to cut their balls off? But that’s a different tangent…)


I tink they cut the balls off for behavioral and health reasons. If you leave em on, they will still have the urge to hump things.


Yep. Both testicles and ovaries are endocrine glands as well as being the producers of gametes. They don’t need a duct to dump their hormones, so cutting the vas deferens or tying the fallopian tubes won’t do squat to keep the hormones from influencing behavior. They have to come OUT.

The pet analogy fails because rights are the business of government, and government governs humans, not pets.

Oregon has had a law for nearly 10 years that allow terminally ill people to end their life with the assistance of a doctor. See link

Personally, I think that anyone, not just the terminally ill should be able to choose to die at the time of their own choosing, if, after appropriate counseling, that is still their choice. This would at least give people a cleaner option other than jumping off of someplace high or walking in front a train.

However, a big dilemma is what to do about a young person in good health who wants to end their life? Teen/adolescent suicide is the 2nd or 3rd biggest cause of death in the 15-24 year old age group. Do you put an age limit on the “right” to die? Do you force the person to take anti-depressants if they are young and not physically ill?

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KGS, my sympathies. We went through something similar with my grandmother recently, and I had been ready to tell you that you probably don’t have to worry much longer.

Sympathies KGS. Quick note - “fixing” pets is humane. About 10 million cats and dogs are sent to shelters every year and half of them are gassed to death when no one can take care of them. Many others are starved or drowned to death by people who can’t/won’t take care of the litters thier pets have. Sex really isn’t that enjoyable for most mammals by the looks of it anyway – usually involves force - and bitches do not enjoy being in heat.

The arguments we’re all making demonstrate the reason why there isn’t a straight yes/no answer to euthanasia. I am myself pro-euthanasia. I believe the critically ill should have the decision to end their lives “prematurely”. I use the word loosely because it seems that the going belief that being hooked up to IV’s and machines in your final hours is living. If a person is no longer able to sustain themselves for the remainder of their life then surely Nature intends for them to die. It is only by human intervention that this is not the case. Of course there is the problem of who decides, after all a comatose person cannot express their desires. Also what of the depressed and mentally ill. If a able bodied 16 year old wants to die most if not all of the Dopers here would be outraged to allow it. But it happens and although I hate to say it to deny a person the decision of how long they wish to live is to deny them the individual freedom we aspire to achieve. In any case, ill or not, the person in question may at a later time wish to live. How to we settle between the rights of a present person compared to those of a future self. This is why euthanasia is still not settled.

There that shoulda confused 'em…is this thing still on. Oops.

Antidepressants don’t work for everyone. I think Holland allows assisted suicide for victims of depression, though I don’t know what the criteria are.

The age limit issue is a good one. Adolescence itself seems to be a form of mental illness (which everyone goes through and most eventually recover from) so putting a cap on it like they do with drinking or driving would be a good idea.

Mental illness often gets ignored in these euthanasia debates, but in some ways I think it’s MORE applicable because it’s a non-terminal condition. Hell, I suffer from depression and sometimes I wish I did have cancer or something like it, because then I’d only have to wait 2 years for the inevitable instead of sixty…

Thanks for the sympathies, Jean Grey (and everyone else) – I’m starting to realize the same thing, looking back with a clear(er) head. In fact I’m feeling a little silly since it turns out he had already died before I started this thread/rant, but the news hadn’t reached me yet.