The relatively recent ability to provide very high-tech, expensive medical procedures to pets raises interesting questions for pet owners, veterinarians, and ethicists alike:
- Can we justify spending tens of thousands of dollars on a bone marrow transplant or chemotherapy for our dog or cat?
- Can we ethically own a pet if we are unwilling or unable to spend these sums on its care?
- Are we failing our pet if we decide not to “do everything” for it — and if the answer is “no” — can we avoid feeling guilty about it?
- What are our responsibilities to our pet vis à vis extending its life and/or preventing its suffering?
- Can we separate our own emotional desire for our pet to live longer from what may or may not be best for our pet?
A recent New York Times article highlights many of these ethical questions and also offers six opinions on the topic of end-of-life pet care. I found it thought-provoking and useful in two ways.
First, the article can be a useful resource for your clients if they are faced with a decision about caring for a seriously ill pet. It’s a series of short, accessible pieces.
Second, I found that shifting my own lens to think about medical care in the context of animals was a good exercise. Most of the questions above are the same ones we confront about high-tech treatments for ourselves and our loved ones. At some level, just the act of thinking about these questions in terms of animals forces us to compare and contrast these notions with our thoughts about human medical treatment. So while the answers to the questions above may – or may not – be different for our pets than for the humans in our lives, the thought process itself may actually help clients clarify their views about their personal health care decisions, as well. It did mine.
Randi J. Siegel, MBA, is the President of DocuBank (docubank.com), the largest advance directives registry in the U.S., which ensures that the healthcare directives of its 190,000 enrollees are immediately available 24/7/365. Working with estate planning professionals since 1997, Randi frequently speaks at national estate planning conferences and has appeared on radio and television as an authority on registries. She is active in health policy pertaining to advance directives and serves as a Senior Fellow at the Jefferson School of Population Health in Philadelphia. Randi is an ongoing contributor to the Academy blog.
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