Seven or eight years back I used to work at a multi-doctor practice a few thousand miles East of where we live now. One of my colleagues (Dr. H) had a client who owned a sweet yellow Labrador Retriever that had been coming to the hospital since he was a pup. Great dog, I remember seeing him a couple of times in the lobby. Eventually the dog developed some chronic debilitating disease (one that I can't remember now), and finally one Saturday he unfortunately had to be euthanized. This particular client used to bring their two young children, both under the age of six, with them during their appointments, however during this particular appointment they weren't present. Dr. H had told me later that after the euthanasia, the parents wanted his opinion on what to tell the kids. They were fairly young, afterall, and they loved that dog fiercely.
Well, Dr. H (having five children of his own) felt strongly that telling them the truth was the best thing to do. Hey, death is a horrible fact of life that kids end up learning at some point, so he thought the parents should take control of when and how the children learn it. Upon leaving the exam room, they agreed and planned to tell the kids later that night what had happened.
Two weeks later when they returned to pick up the ashes, our office manager asked how the conversation went.
Apparently, telling the kids that the dog had died wasn't what they originally were worried about. Death, surprisingly was easy to explain, it was how the dog died that was the difficult part. I hadn't thought about that. Sure, he had a severely debilitating disease with no hope of a cure. But how exactly do you explain to a child at that age that, not only did the family dog die, but YOU took him to the hospital to be killed.
I guess they felt it was easier to tell the kids that when they parked outside our hospital for a routine visit, he jumped out of the car, ran into the street and was hit by a car.
Wow. I'm not sure why, but I think about that story almost every time I'm faced with a euthanasia. A lot of my clients have children, and I often wonder what they're being told. Thankfully I haven't been faced with that situation yet, so I haven't had to have that difficult conversation with a child. I guarantee though that if my wife and I have to unfortunately euthanize one of our pets, we'll somehow have our kid(s) prepared from the start. Hey, I don't know how we'll prepare them, but we'll do it. I just simply can't fathom how a lie like that is supposed to somehow be more comforting than the truth.