Great Advances in Veterinary Medicine, But What About the Costs?

April 21, 2012

The New York Times has an excellent piece on new life-saving medical treatments for dogs. You’ll read about Tina, a 10-year-old chow owned by Mike Otworth that was one of the first dogs ever to receive a bone-marrow transplant. The procedure is detailed and makes for fascinating reading (using equipment donated by the Mayo Clinic).

Then there is the price Mr. Otworth paid: $25,000 in total.

No one can argue against the money that was spent to save Tina. That’s a personal choice to be made by each dog owner. But it does raise some troubling questions.

What is the extra time with a companion animal worth?  To you and for the dog? Are there some procedures that shouldn’t be performed on aging dogs in the calculation of time gained versus the pain of the operation and recovery time?

In my opinion the last great gift you can give your dog is an easy passage from this life.

The enormous amount of money that’s spent on end of life care for humans doesn’t make sense to me, unless it delivers a good ‘quality of life’ for the patient. All too often, I see elderly people kept alive by medical technology today who, 30 years ago, would’ve died. Their quality of life is terrible. No relatively healthy person would trade places with them. So why artificially extend their suffering?

Does this make me a heartless beast who would ‘pull the plug on Grandma?’ Sure. (I never liked Grandma anyway).

There are two factors that drive this: insurance that covers these expensive treatments and guilt over not doing everything humanly possible for a loved one. We are rushing towards the day when the insurance part of this equation will break down and heroic intervention is simply no longer affordable.

It now looks like we will be facing similar hard choices when it comes to our dogs.



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