Veterinary Technicians in Euthanasia Work; Encouragement

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Could our profession be utilizing highly skilled and empathetic veterinary technicians/nurses to perform companion animal euthanasia rather than us relying mostly on veterinarians?  Around 20% of US states allow vet techs to do so with direct veterinary supervision, meaning the veterinarian is on site and overseeing the euthanasia procedure.  This is an important step to show that technicians are capable of the work.   But what if the vet isn’t onsite, whether in at the hospital or able to assist for a home euthanasia?  Will the animal/pet be made to suffer longer until help can arrive? My hope, and that of the Companion Animal Euthanasia Training Academy (CAETA), is to encourage the training of these talented personnel to be 100% prepared to deliver a gentle death whenever it’s needed.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has put together a document titled State Animal Euthanasia Laws (updated September 2019). The document comprehensively lists who is allowed to perform the euthanasia procedure on animals.  Veterinarians are the primary facilitator.  In animal shelters, euthanasia technicians who’ve taken advanced training may perform euthanasia for shelter animals only.  For non-shelter employed veterinary technicians, the document indicates if and how they may assist.  

Currently around 10 states allow vet techs to perform euthanasia with (Direct) or without (Indirect) the veterinarian present.   Nine states indicate the technician may perform it as long as the veterinarian is on site and able to assist should the need arise.  Either situation requires the veterinarian to ‘prescribe’ euthanasia as the best medical procedure for the patient given its physical and mental health.  The vet tech cannot decide to perform it without veterinarian consent.  The majority, some 26 states, do not allow veterinary technicians to perform euthanasia outside of shelters.  This is a big number and one we’d like to see altered.  Note that North Dakota and Wisconsin were not listed in the document.  Kudos to the states who have identified the ability of veterinary technicians to perform the procedure, especially after taking 2-4 years of veterinary-centric education compared to those in the shelter industry.

Here is a breakdown of the state rules:

Direct Supervision Only (veterinarian must be on site)
Colorado 
Connecticut
Kentucky
Missouri
Montana
Nebraska
Nevada
Oklahoma
Texas

Both Indirect and Direct Supervision Allowed
Alabama
California
Delaware
Florida
Georgia
New Jersey (reads a bit unclear)
New York
Ohio
Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
Washington

Not allowed to perform
Utah
Wyoming
West Virginia
Vermont
Virginia
Illinois
South Carolina
South Dakota
Tennessee
Oregon
Indiana
Massachusettes
New Mexico
North Carolina
Iowa
Maryland
Michigan
Minnesota
Mississippi
Louisiana
Maine
Kansas
Hawaii
Idaho
Alaska
Arizona
Arkansas

Unknown / not listed
North Dakota
Wisconsin

Euthanasia is considered one of the most common procedures in veterinary medicine.  It is rich with emotional and ethical complexity requiring deep reflection before deciding to carry it out.  With its commonality comes the need to ensure trained medical personnel are at the ready.  Step one will be to ensure veterinary technicians understand these complexities and are prepared to deliver a gentle death.  Step two will be to affect change in state legislation to open the door for them.  

And veterinarians could use the help.  Colleagues routinely tell us their end-of-life services are vastly understaffed, especially with euthanasia support.   We feel the use of these skilled, empathetic veterinary technicians increases the number of animals helped in a given day around the US (and around the world). In fact, as of 2020, many veterinary technician schools would benefit from additional euthanasia education to help prepare them for the work. It adds more work to drug management/storage, but when following DEA and state-mandated regulations, vet techs can be a welcomed support line.  This becomes a matter of animal welfare.  

Want to help direct the conversation?  Contact CAETA at admin@caetainternational.com

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Kathleen Cooney

DVM, CHPV, CCFP Founder, Director of Education for the Companion Animal Euthanasia Training Academy
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