Death in the Family

This past week was a tough one in our house. We had to euthanize our 9 1/2 year old German Shepherd Dog after discovering he had an advanced case of lymphoma. Yes, the full name of the the breed is “German Shepherd Dog”; no I don’t know why. Weird, huh? The Wikipedia article on the breed, and some other sources I have seen, put the upper weight limit of males at 88 pounds. Our big boy was 105. That is, before he got sick. In just two weeks he lost over twenty pounds and began to look emaciated. That’s what caused me to take him in to see the vet. After an x-ray we were counseled that the chances of a positive outcome from an intervention were very low. Especially since the x-ray showed he also had advanced arthritis in his spine.

Considering his age and the low chance of extending his life appreciably we decided to spare him as much pain as possible. After we made the decision to euthanize him I planned on a date a week away in order to give us a little more time with him. Perhaps this was a little selfish of me, but I thought he might get some enjoyment out of his last week and we’d get a little more time to get used to the idea of not having him around any more. Due to the location of his tumor (deep in his intestines) though, he wasn’t able to eat. This meant his rate of deterioration was accelerating. Sadly, after one more day of watching him drag around with none of the pep that was his hallmark his whole life, I decided to take him in that evening.

It’s an extremely difficult thing to decide when to end the life of a loved one. I agonized over the decision for days knowing that there would be no way to know if I had made the right choice in the end. I feel terrible about not trying a surgical intervention first, but looking at that x-ray even I could see that it didn’t look good. In the end we did what we thought best for him, and in a way, that’s all that matters.

Going through this experience caused me to ponder on the ethical issue of euthanasia. I find it very interesting that it is a widely accepted practice when it comes to our animal friends but is considered unethical by many when applied to humans. I can’t think of any rational justification for it to be ethical in one case but not in the other. Any defense of the status quo on this issue in our society must be predicated on some fundamental difference between humans and other species. I don’t think there is a fundamental difference though. I don’t believe in souls, or that we were created in some god’s image, or that some supernatural boogie-man gave us “dominion” over the other species on this planet. I think we should move this debate in our society beyond a blanket prohibition on euthanizing humans and start discussing in what situations it’s appropriate. The word “euthanasia” comes from the Greek roots eu- (good) and thanatos (death) and I, for one, would prefer a good death to a long lingering painful one. Death is sad no matter what, but for us biological types it is inevitable. Euthanasia can allow people who choose it a way to face that inevitability with dignity and on their own terms. Think about it.

Goodbye Loki. We loved you dearly, and will miss you terribly. You made us laugh and made our home safer. You protected my family whenever I was away from home. A truer heart I’ve never known… nor likely ever will. I hope we were able to repay a fraction of your loyalty and friendship by giving you a good death. Voran!

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