- Recording of pet euthanasia appointments is becoming increasingly common.
- Many clients are unaware that the appointments are recorded.
- Having a record of these appointments can benefit veterinarians and clients.
- How best to obtain consent from clients needs careful discussion.
How would you feel if one of the most intimate and heart-wrenching experiences of your life—euthanasia of your beloved pet—was being recorded on your veterinarian’s phone? Think about it, because it might happen to you.
Some veterinary euthanasia providers are now recording all euthanasia appointments on audio, and some also on video. This practice seems to be particularly common among mobile veterinary euthanasia providers but is also occurring in brick-and-mortar veterinary hospitals and clinics. The recording of euthanasia appointments raises important ethical concerns related to privacy and consent and is an emerging issue that deserves further discussion.
Here, we focus specifically on mobile euthanasia appointments that occur in the client’s home.
A Case Example
A friend of mine lost her dog Haddi about six weeks ago. In the end, she called a local mobile euthanasia provider, which is part of a large franchise of mobile euthanasia clinics in Colorado. I know for a fact that this company records all appointments; it is part of the standard protocol that all their veterinary employees must follow. Although I was reluctant to bring it up, I decided that this friend was in a place where I could ask about her experience without causing undue pain. I asked if her session was recorded. She said, “No, not that I’m aware.” I asked if she remembered filling out any paperwork prior to the euthanasia and whether she had read the intake form carefully. She said no, she didn’t remember much about the intake form and didn’t read anything in detail, and didn’t remember anything about the appointment being recorded. “I was really upset about Haddi,” she said. “It is all sort of a blur.” I then asked how she would feel if she found out that the session had been recorded. “I’d would feel uncomfortable. I would like to have known.”
Why would vets make recordings?
I talked to Kathy Cooney, DVM, a euthanasia veterinarian, and founder of Companion Animal Euthanasia Training Academy (CAETA) and a pioneer in providing compassionate euthanasia, about recording appointments, which she started doing three years ago and has recommended to other practitioners. Cooney describes her process on the CAETA website: “Before I begin my appointments, I put my phone on silent, turn on the recording app (voice record), and make a quick soundbite with the patient’s first and last name. The phone is placed in a pocket in my doctor's bag with the microphone end sticking up. The bag remains next to me during every stage of the appointment so talking and sounds can be easily recorded.”
Although she doesn’t have to let clients know that she is recording—she practices in Colorado, which has a one-party consent rule*—Cooney does so. Her online scheduling system informs clients that “all appointments are audio recorded for quality assurance purposes.”
Cooney believes that recording the appointments offers a level of protection to the veterinarian and client by providing a record of what transpired. In particular, the recording:
- Provides a record of what the veterinarian did and said.
- How the patient and family were treated.
- Whether the client raised any concerns during the appointment.
- Whether the animal had any adverse experiences (if the euthanasia goes smoothly, the animal presumably will remain quiet; if the animal cries out or is heard to be struggling and needs to be physically restrained, something has gone wrong).
- Finally, the recording can provide evidence of possible theft of controlled substances, which mobile providers bring into the home. (A veterinarian will often briefly leave the room before or after an animal’s death, to give the family privacy while they say goodbye. Barbiturates or other drugs could potentially be removed from their travel bag.)
Recordings, Cooney says, provide a mechanism for veterinary practices to review cases, especially cases that don’t go as smoothly as hoped. As she notes, “I can refer back to it if I forgot specific details such as whom I should notify regarding the death, or aftercare requests important to the client. Most importantly though, it can be used if the client raises concerns about how the appointment was conducted.”
Some Concerns: Consent and Transparency
Cooney offers some compelling reasons for veterinarians to record euthanasia appointments, perhaps the most important of which is protection against complaints and future liability. Veterinarians are working within an increasingly litigious climate and having an objective record of what transpires during every appointment offers benefits to veterinarians and clients alike.
How should consent be handled? If a veterinary practice simply doesn’t disclose that they are recording, that’s a clear ethical problem. Pet guardians would be unaware that the death of their animal is being recorded and this lack of transparency is a potentially uncomfortable invasion of privacy. Often, however, the ethical issue is more nuanced, as we see in Cooney’s approach: the information is disclosed on intake paperwork. I've seen the form that Cooney uses and the statement about "recording for quality purposes" was clear and was easy for me to find. But I still wonder if more should be done to support transparency and client understanding.
Medical ethicists, when talking about the elements of consent, are careful to note various structural and psychological factors that can influence how well people absorb and process information. Taking Cooney’s approach as an example—and acknowledging here that she has been very careful about how she handles communication with her clients, trying to provide enough information without overwhelming them in a time of distress—we might explore whether including a disclaimer about recording, in the fine print of an intake form, is enough information at the right time.
It may be that a distraught caregiver, facing the prospect of the imminent death of their beloved companion, will not carefully read all the fine print on an intake form. As was the case with my friend when facing the loss of her dog, they may, in fact, just try to get through the paperwork as quickly as possible, perhaps through a haze of grief, fear, and concern about their animal.
Furthermore, the language “this will be recorded for quality assurance purposes” is a boilerplate—we hear it every time we call our bank or an online store—and may simply slip past our awareness. The language could be more upfront: “We record all appointments by audio, to ensure the safety of our staff and our patients. If you have concerns or questions about being recorded, please let us know” or something to this effect. This information could be provided on an intake form and could also be reiterated in person during the appointment, with the recording device (the veterinarian’s phone) placed in view of the client, not surreptitiously dropped into a pocket. Transparency will nurture our sense of trust. And when it comes to the excruciating experience of choosing to hasten the death of our beloved companions, trust in the person who is ending our animal's life is of the utmost importance.
There is nothing inherently wrong with veterinarians recording euthanasia appointments, and in fact I think there are many potential benefits, as long as everyone knows that recording is taking place and has given consent. In my opinion, pet guardians should be able to opt-out if recording makes them uncomfortable. Opting out is only possible if they know that recording is going to take place.
Whether being recorded bothers you will be highly individual, and it may not concern you at all. If, on the other hand, you are uncomfortable or simply want to know one way or the other, then ask. Read the fine print on the intake form, ask when you call, ask when you enter the clinic, or when the vet comes into your house.
The ethical nuances of recording veterinary appointments, especially euthanasia appointments, deserve an open and careful conversation. The implications for veterinary professionals and pet guardians are significant and as the recording of appointments—not just by providers, but also by clients themselves-- becomes more commonplace, the ethical implications will need to be addressed.
- State laws vary. In all-party jurisdictions, both parties must consent to be recorded. Colorado along with 38 other states and D.C. have a one-party consent rule, which means that only one party to a conversation must consent to be recorded: your vet can record without your consent. Likewise, you could record without your vet’s consent.
Kathy Cooney, "Recording Euthanasia Appointments for Safety and Transparency." CAETA website.