A question about keeping a dog alive was the subject of “The Ethicist,” in the NYT magazine section, on November 8, 2015, How Much Can We Spend to Keep Our Dog Alive? by Kwame Anthony Appiah.
Like most topics involving animals, this one engenders particularly emotional responses, as indicated in part by the 133 comments to the article (posted as of 5:22 pm on Nov. 8).
I have previously discussed how end of life decisions are based on a plethora of factors, specific to each situation.
With the increasing prevalence of specialty veterinary hospitals providing state-of-the art care by board certified specialists, the expectation of pet owners is also changing. The cost of specialized care can be breathtaking, including diagnostics similar to testing provided in human medicine, life-saving surgery, chemotherapy and other medical treatment. Often, pet owners equate the high cost of such care with a guarantee that it will successfully prolong the life of their pets.
When these expectations are not met, owners may accuse veterinarians of negligence or malpractice in complaints before the state’s veterinary medical examining board or in court.
Therefore, it is imperative that veterinarians take extra steps to explain and outline all potential outcomes from the possible treatment option available, and specify that there are no guarantees, no matter which option is selected. Veterinarians should record the date and content of all such client discussions in their medical records. Understanding client-expectations is second only to providing the required standard of care for the patient.
Back to the question presented in The Ethicist-how much should an owner spend on veterinary care? This should not be a question for anyone other than the pet’s owner, in consultation with their veterinarian.
Veterinarians are trained to provide all reasonable alternatives for owners to consider for the care of their pet. This is a fundamental part of the practice of veterinary medicine and is one that is performed on a daily basis.
Students aspiring to be veterinarians should recognize that to be successful, a veterinarian has to understand the needs and expectations of their clients, in addition to providing medical care to their patients.