Moral stress is a major concern in veterinary practice. Often, it is associated with the challenges in end-of-life situations. Euthanasia, however, is also meant to bring relief to animal patients and their owners. The reasons for the moral strain euthanizing animals causes to professional veterinarians need to be further clarified. This article investigates “euthanasia” from a philosophical, legal, and practical perspective. After introducing relevant aspects of euthanasia in small animal practice, the term is analyzed from an ethical point of view. That includes both a broad and a narrow definition of “euthanasia” and underlying assumptions regarding different accounts of animal death and well-being. Then, legal and soft regulations are discussed with regard to the theoretical aspects and practical challenges, also including questions of personal morality. It is argued that the importance of ethical definitions and assumptions concerning euthanasia and their intertwinement with both law and practical challenges should not be neglected. The conclusion is that veterinarians should clarify the reasons for their potential discomfort and that they should be supported by improved decision-making tools, by implementation of theoretical and practical ethics in veterinary education, and by updated animal welfare legislation.
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