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.