This morning found me checking the cattle on some outlying pasture we rent with a fabulous view over the Blackmore Vale. It’s not a chore, it’s really a pleasure and one I readily volunteer to do. It’s a very peaceful place, full of birdsong and hay meadow flowers – currently a peppering of lady’s smock (or cuckoo flower) and I was even lucky enough to see an orange-tip butterfly that feeds on this flower.
It offers the tranquillity that allows time to breathe deeply and reflect on our strange, hectic world. I thought of a news headline this morning: The euthanasia story. The practice of intentionally ending a life in order to relieve pain and suffering. As a vet this is something I regularly do. Responsibly, I trust; fully aware of my patients’ quality of life. And I still well up at times.
Just last week I put Boris to sleep. Using an overdose of barbiturate he gently entered a painless sleep he will never wake up from. He was a lovely old labrador, grey-whiskered but still handsome, a delightful old boy with a roguish history of bin-raiding and loving everyone with his thumping wag. He had rapidly lost control of his backend and could no longer stand or maintain continence. I suggest that had we not said our good-byes when we did, but dragged it on, the case could rightly be viewed as one of cruelty.
I have lost count of the number of times people have commented if only they could have done that for their dear mother/ father/ partner. Although our laws explicitly stop us from entering into active human euthanasia, ie killing by lethal substance, they do allow us to passively euthanize, for example by withdrawing any necessary treatment to stay alive. The latter seems to me to be a harder, more drawn out way to die, open to just as much abuse (on inheritance grounds) as injecting some blue liquid intravenously.
Yes, life deserves exceptional security and protection but at all costs? Of course rehabilitation and palliation is significantly advanced these days to help man and beast but can there not come a time when suffering seems unbearable? I may be a hard-bitten veterinarian but hearing stories like Debbie Purdy’s still brings a lump to my throat, even in such a peaceful place.