Animals (Sep 2022)

Killing Kira, Letting Tom Go?—An Empirical Study on Intuitions Regarding End-of-Life Decisions in Companion Animals and Humans

  • Kirsten Persson,
  • Felicitas Selter,
  • Peter Kunzmann,
  • Gerald Neitzke

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 12, no. 19
p. 2494


Read online

Veterinary and human medicine share the challenges of end-of-life decisions. While there are legal and practical differences, there might be parallels and convergences regarding decision-making criteria and reasoning patterns in the two disciplines. In this online survey, six variants of a fictitious thought experiment aimed at pointing out crucial criteria relevant for decision-making within and across both professional fields. The six variants introduced four human and two animal patients with the same disease but differing in age, gender and, in case of the human patients, in terms of their state of consciousness. Participants could choose between four different treatment options: euthanasia, continuous sedation, a potentially curative treatment with severe side effects and no intervention. Study participants were human and veterinary medical professionals and an additional control group of lay people. Decisions and justifications for the six variants differed but the three groups of participants answered rather homogeneously. Besides the patient’s “suffering” as a main criterion, “age”, “autonomy” and, to a lesser extent, “species” were identified as important criteria for decision-making in all three groups. The unexpected convergences as well as subtle differences in argumentation patterns give rise to more in-depth research in this cross-disciplinary field.