Tackling the “What Would the Veterinarian Do?” Conundrum

Dr. Patty Khuly

It runs the spectrum from fear and loathing to bemusement and — dare I admit it? — even relief. When I get this question, I feel it all … at once. I mean, how can anyone not feel simultaneously overwhelmed and esteemed when being asked to psychologically shoulder another’s burden? Yet this is among the most common questions I get treated to when pet owners face the most gut-wrenching choices. And, as you can imagine, devastatingly difficult decision-making happens often in veterinary medicine.

A Question That Makes Veterinarians Cringe

But it’s not just me. By all accounts, few veterinarians are immune to this line of questioning. And while it never fails to unnerve, it somehow also disarms us so that we feel more comfortable addressing certain aspects of the situation more personally.

Nonetheless, plenty of veterinarians abhor the query. And while — personally speaking — I don’t share their beliefs, I can totally understand why anyone would feel that way. Here’s a quick rundown of the perfectly defensible reasons detailed by veterinarians who’d really rather their clients not ask such importune questions.

It’s too close. Some distance between the caregiver and the client is mandatory if the relationship is to function optimally. Whenever veterinarians get too close to their patients and their pet owners, the objectivity necessary to function at the top of their game is eroded.

It’s too personal. How can any veterinarian assume to share a client’s personal and spiritual values, especially when it involves such an emotional relationship?

Veterinarians have too much power in the relationship. Veterinarians are often considered powerful authority figures when it comes to the life and death of their patients. But that doesn’t mean we know what's best for everyone. Avoiding questions like this one allows pet owners to make independent decisions in the absence of a veterinarian’s undue influence.


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