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Open AccessArticle

Philosophy of a “Good Death” in Small Animals and Consequences for Euthanasia in Animal Law and Veterinary Practice

Stiftung Tierärztliche Hochschule Hannover, Bünteweg 9, 30559 Hannover, Germany
Medizinische Hochschule Hannover, Carl-Neuberg-Straße 1, 30625 Hannover, Germany
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2020, 10(1), 124;
Received: 30 November 2019 / Revised: 22 December 2019 / Accepted: 7 January 2020 / Published: 13 January 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Veterinary Ethics)
Euthanasia in veterinary practice is often discussed as one of the profession’s major burdens. At the same time, it is meant to bring relief to terminally ill and/or severely suffering animal patients. This article examines “euthanasia” from a philosophical perspective regarding different definitions and underlying basic assumptions concerning the meaning of death and welfare for nonhuman animals. These theoretical issues will then be discussed in relation to laws and guidelines on euthanasia and practical challenges with end-of-life decisions in small animal practice. Factors which are identified as potential causes of the complex problems regarding euthanasia are as follows: the confusing framework for euthanasia in law and soft regulations; the inclusion of many stakeholders’ perspectives in end-of-life decision-making; potential conflicts between the veterinarians’ personal morality and legal requirements and professional expectations; and, most of all, the veterinarians’ lack of awareness for underlying philosophical assumptions regarding possible understandings of euthanasia. Different practical suggestions are made to clarify and facilitate euthanasia in small animal practice.
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. View Full-Text
Keywords: veterinary ethics; euthanasia guidelines; moral stress; animal death veterinary ethics; euthanasia guidelines; moral stress; animal death
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Persson, K.; Selter, F.; Neitzke, G.; Kunzmann, P. Philosophy of a “Good Death” in Small Animals and Consequences for Euthanasia in Animal Law and Veterinary Practice. Animals 2020, 10, 124.

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