Thoughts on Death

So I have a cat who is dying.

Or at least, who has cancer, is clearly not doing well, and will probably die sooner rather than later. Part of my dealing with this is doing reading on end-of-life decisions for pets, which is leading to a lot of thoughts of death and dying in general.

See, my thoughts on what to do as Genzi gets sicker are directly informed by my beliefs on death in general. I imagine if I tried to talk about it someone would say “oh, but he’s a cat. that’s different.” Only for me, it really isn’t different. Or at least, it’s only a little bit different. In any case, the thoughts are becoming intertwined.

Which means thoughts on disability and euthanasia are coming to mind quite strongly. This is a current and serious issue in the disability community, with lots of people – including vital health-care providers – believing that disabled lives are not worth living. Sometimes to the point of trying to make decisions for disabled people, believing they would be better off dead, when the disabled person would really much rather keep on living.

With a pet, the choice really is in my hands. Legally, socially, and practically. I get to decide when and how he dies, and there are a lot of different opinions out there about how I should make that decision. Some of them, honestly, rather distress me. I was reading a web page (which I lost the link to, but if I find it I’ll put it here) basically saying that if they used to be all playful but have become old and stiff and unwell, then they are no longer living the life they would have wanted and it’s time to euthanize them. Honestly, that so closely echoed what people say about disabled lives that I found it quite alarming. Is this what I am supposed to believe? That an old life is a life that might as well be over?

I cannot ask my cat whether or not he still wants to live. That said, even without the use of words he can show me through his actions how he feels about this living thing. Yes, he’s unwell, but he eats, he cuddles, he purrs when I pet him, and sometimes I even still find him in the backyard, hanging out on opposite sides of the fence with one of the local ferals he seems to have become buddies with. No, he’s not like he was when he was young, but he still seems to be enjoying life and is not ready for it to end.

With most disabled people, though, we CAN ask. Yet so many people do not, or do not listen when told what they don’t care to believe. That is not at all ok.

On a personal level, I find myself torn. While profoundly against how our society treats disabled lives, I am also in favor of allowing people to take charge of their own death. No one can ever decide for a person when it’s time to die, but I do think that a person gets to decide for themselves, provided they do so entirely on their own with no outside pressure. Even if a person cannot communicate, we should never, ever attempt to make that decision for them.

Which, to bring it back around to my cat, means that I do think pet euthanasia is sometimes the right answer. The tricky part is figuring out when and in what circumstances. Luckily for me, the decision does not need to be made yet. Genzi is still enjoying life as an old man, and my job is to help him do so for as long as possible – not to decide that an old, sick life is no life at all, regardless of his feelings on the matter.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Thoughts on Death

  1. When people suggest to put a cat to sleep if he’s not playful anymore and is indifferent and doesn’t show interest in things, they mean that when a cat acts this way, it means he’s suffering, in pain.

    I don’t think any creature, human or animals, wants to live a life when he’s suffering severe pain constantly, non-stop. I’d want to die. The kind of pain that makes one stop functioning, paralyzing him.

    I lost my cats too, and I know how much it hurts. We aspies get very attached to our pets and can’t deal with loss very well. But i’ve seen a big, tough neurotypical man crying at the vet’s office, and I’ve seen a neurotypical policewoman wearing a shirt that read ‘bombs removal,’ which means she eats bombs for breakfast, and yet she couldn’t stop crying over her small brown dog that collapsed like it had no strength left, and someone said it had a tumor…

    So sorry to read this. And how I hate it when people shrugg and say to just buy another one, like it’s a TV set or something. Buying another one doesn’t take the pain away. It’s not a toy, and I find it very insensitive and and heartless when people say this. Or when they try to buy someone who’s pet has just died another one, especially without asking. If I wanted another one, I’d have gotten one myself. How can neurotypicals be so insensitive? They’re the ones who are supposed to understand better how a person feels, after all.

  2. I went through a very similar situation. My cat Sammy-Joe was certainly not “just a cat.” He was my baby! When he got cancer, people urged me to put him to sleep as he got weaker and less playful. I felt like I could not make that decision. How could I decide when to end someone’s life, especially the life of someone I loved so much? I tried to make him as happy and comfortable as possible and gave him all of his favorite treats whenever he would eat.
    In the end, one morning I woke up and he was yowling in pain, he had lost control of his bowels, and his organs were shutting down. I still wanted to just hold him and let him die naturally, but before long I felt like he NEEDED me to help him end the pain. I called a special veterinarian who would come to my house, and she euthanized him while we both petted him and spoke to him.
    Although I cried horribly, I did feel like I did the right thing… like it was my final act of showing him love and taking care of him, to put him out of pain. But I don’t think I could have done it any sooner than I did… when he was still walking around and seeming somewhat okay, I also think I would want to do the same thing for a human, if it came to the point that they were in horrible pain and were not going to live.
    I can’t tell you what to do or when to do it for your cat… but I can tell you to follow your own gut, and don’t let others pressure you to make a decision. If the time comes, you will know it without a doubt and you will be ready.

  3. I don’t agree that cats can’t be happy once they become old and stiff. My first cat had a long old age where he spent most of his time sleeping in a cosy spot, and I think he was happy with that, and having lots of cuddles.

    An important criticism of euthanasia for humans is that in a society where disabled people are made to feel like scroungers and burdens, people might make the decision to die not because they don’t have a good enough quality of life but because they feel guilty for needing high levels of care and feel like a burden on their families or on society. But this doesn’t apply to cats.

    It’s hard to tell when a cat is in pain and I think it can be really difficult to judge their quality of life. When my second cat was dying of cancer the vet said that at some point we would need to euthanize her and, me and my family agreed with him. I thought it was the right thing to do because she would die soon anyway and I wanted to avoid letting her suffer. And I felt I didn’t really have any choice but to trust the vets because they knew more about medicine than I did.

    The vets helped a lot with deciding when it was the right time to euthanize her. They told us what signs to look out for that might indicate she was suffering. I think they said that her quality of life would be acceptable if she was still eating and doing normal cat behaviours like rubbing and investigating new things. We gave her medication for pain and nausea. She spent most of her time lying by the radiator but she still made some trips outside to sit in the garden. She never gave up on life.

    Eventually the vet decided she had lost too much muscle mass and that it would start causing serious problems soon. She’d become extremely weak. We made an appointment for the vet to come to our house to euthanize her. So she died in a place she liked with her family around her.

    I thought being without her would be unimaginably awful, but I was able to feel happy some of the time soon after she died, and I got through it. It helped me to talk to people about her life.

  4. Autism Mom

    I worried about the same thing when my cat reached 18 – how would I know when the right time would be? It turned out that the “right time” became very obvious when he stopped moving, eating, etc. He told me when it was time.