Veterinarians and Suicide (Euthanasia)

Euthanasia is defined as the practice of intentionally ending a life in order to relieve pain and suffering.

Recent research has demonstrated ( sorry – can’t be bothered with references today) that health care workers – doctors, dentists, nurses, and pharmacists – have an elevated risk of suicide compared to the general public.  Rates of suicide in vets from the U.K., Australia, Norway, Belgium, and the U.S. are “significantly elevated” with reports showing 4x the risk compared to the general public and a 2x increase in likelihood as those in other health care professions.


Published material cites a complex interaction of possible reasons:

1.  characteristics of individuals entering the profession.  We are usually described as empathetic, compassionate, and “perfectionists”.

2.  work-related stressors such as long hours, on-call commitments, problems with life-work balance, rising client expectations, and financial pressures.

3.  professional and social isolation

4.  ready access to and knowledge of drugs and means

5.  the stigma associated with mental illness

6.  alcohol and/or drug misuse

7.  the subconscious acceptance of euthanasia as a treatment option and the attitudes fostered by a profession routinely involved with the euthanasia of beloved companion animals and the slaughter of farm animals.

This may all be true but I believe that vets are faced with pretty much the same stressors and mental health issues as the general public.

So why the increased “risk” of suicide in our profession?

People in crisis (short or long term) can basically choose from 3 options:

1.  change your life or circumstances

2.  change how you think and feel about things

3.  opt to end the crisis by ending your life

For me – having the ability to end suffering, to watch as the pain and terror leave those (usually) brown eyes, knowing I have helped when nothing else has or can.  This should not be limited to non-human animals and I think many vets know this.

I know there is anguish and guilt when a loved one leaves us.  I also know asking somone/something to “hang on” for better times isn’t always fair or often practical.

Most people wait too long to decide on euthanasia for animals.  There have been times when I couldn’t wait to get into the room with my syringe and hefty dose of barbituates.

For some reason, most people expect other people who are or have been suffering to “tough it out”.  Bullshit. This is not fair or humane.

I know from years of personal experience that knowing when to quit is a valid quality.  I believe that we should all have the basic rights to decide when that time is here on a personal level.

Euthanasia(suicide) is a logical choice and one we should embrace not demonize.  A decision you make for yourself, for your own sake.       Doc.