Bioethics Blogs

Trapper’s Care in the Animal ER and Frank Talk about Costs

“The capacity for suffering and enjoying things is a prerequisite for having interests at all, a condition that must be satisfied before we can speak of interests in any meaningful way,” –Peter Singer

Singer has argued for the equitable and fair treatment of animals based on their ability to suffer in ways similar to humans. I wonder if, in some circumstances, ill pets are treated more humanely in times of crisis than their human counterparts.

Daniel Callahan, cofounder of The Hastings Center, has thoughtfully written on how Americans view cost as a morally acceptable factor in decision-making when it comes to the death of a pet, but not always the death of a human loved one. Veterinary doctors are not only willing to explain a patient’s prognosis, but also the financial costs for a family choosing among various treatment options for their pet. The reason for this seems to be that conversations about end-of-life decision-making come more easily in the context of veterinary care than when the patient in question is a human loved one. Because medical doctors are often reluctant to talk about end-of-life care with their patients, conversations about the financial costs of such care do not occur either. This is not necessarily the case with veterinary care, where, if anything, vets go out of the way to prepare families for the likelihood of death – and its costs. With both human and non-human patients facing illness, the financial costs of care can be startling and deeply upsetting. Callahan has asked how medical doctors might deliver care options to patients in the way his family’s vet did: “beautifully integrat[ing] money, medical candor, and compassion.”

I found myself considering Callahan’s reflection on the death of his own Cavalier King Charles as I sat in the waiting room of the VCA Animal Specialty & Emergency Center in Wappingers Falls, N.Y.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.