Ethnographic exploration of the medical practice of euthanasia
Clinton Sanders, Thomas Koenig, Silvia Dominguez
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Department or Academic Unit
Graduate School of Arts and Science. Department of Sociology and Anthropology.
death work, emotion work, euthanasia, human-animal studies, veterinarians, work-related stress
Euthanasia of animals--Social aspects
Anthropology | Other Veterinary Medicine | Sociology
This dissertation details the work of veterinarians in the context of euthanasia situations. Data consists of interviews with over 40 veterinarians and fieldnotes from 18 months of observation in veterinary hospitals. Participants include skilled, experienced veterinary specialists as well as novice interns fresh out of veterinary school. Unlike most veterinary procedures typically done outside the public eye, owner-witnessed euthanasia requires both technical as well as social skills. In the beginning of their careers, veterinarians felt unprepared to negotiate the decision to euthanize, discuss financial issues, manage the impression of a "good" death for owners, and deal with subsequent client emotions. This dissertation project details the ways in which veterinarians either overcome or learn to cope with these challenges, including how they negotiate with owners over what constitutes "legitimate" reasons for euthanasia. It also examines how veterinarians create "good" deaths for animal patients and handle the emotions of their clients. Veterinarians themselves tend to have ambiguous feelings about this aspect of their work. On one hand, they readily discuss situations fraught with dilemmas and frustrations while itemizing the strategies they develop to respond to this "dirty" aspect of their job. Yet, on the other hand, they also describe euthanasia experiences as professionally rewarding and personally gratifying. In fact, for many, being "good" at euthanasia and helping pet owners through the grieving process is an important part of their identity as veterinarians.
Morris, Patricia, "Encounters with "death work" in veterinary medicine : an ethnographic exploration of the medical practice of euthanasia" (2009). Sociology Dissertations. Paper 6. http://hdl.handle.net/2047/d20000068
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