The debates over euthanasia on Q&A last night got me thinking. Be warned: I’m about to trivialise a very serious human rights issue by writing about my pet cat.
He kind of seems to be dying right now, so it’s slightly pertinent.
Lately, the Second-hand Persian Cat has not been well. As we know from previous posts, his health was already declining. In metaphorical terms, what was once a gradual, and often faltering descent down a gentle grassy slope into a valley of swaying buttercups and merry little butterflies, has become a perilous clinging to the edge of a steep ravine. Perhaps there are even sharks circling in the dark waters below.
But wait a minute – ‘clinging’ to stay alive? Not really. Lately, he’s been doing some terrific impersonations of a lump. Sitting for days on end, lump-like, in his basket. Occasionally he’ll muster a huge amount of will power, stagger up and then slowly teeter over to the kitchen where he will stand, swaying, trying to remember the purpose of kitchens. Something pretty fucking fabulous used to happen here – what was it?
Only a month ago, the biggest problem was that he jumped up onto the bench in the night, scattered and nearly destroyed my burgeoning cactus-in-a-tea-cup garden and then devoured my flatmate’s kidney-bean nacho-mix straight out of the saucepan.
These days, he’s about as far from jumping onto a table as he is from faking a moon landing with the US government.
Sometimes I’ll carry him outside and put him on our lovely sunny front veranda, where the scent of jasmine mingles with the early morning Sydney traffic fumes, and he’ll blink and sniff the air to see what’s out there. But he will invariably haul his weary old bones inside and return to Life As A Lump.
At these times, the lump becomes something in my throat, and I think of putting him in a cat cage, and driving, tear-streaked (and therefore dangerously half-blind) to the local vet clinic where a vet will inject some green stuff into his veins, and release him from this horrible, dreary, uncomfortable, half-life.
He’s twenty years old.
He doesn’t seem to enjoy life much anymore.
If he was a wild animal he would be dead by now.
I’m merely prolonging his suffering, out of my own selfish inability to deal with death in any way at all.
But then I’ll think about cats who have lived for longer than twenty years. Not many, it’s true, but it does happen. Maybe he still has another few years in him yet. And as for surviving in the wild – he’s never been the kind of cat who shows up for lunch with a neatly trussed caribou carcass. The only thing he has ever caught is a tiny skink, which then escaped. So the surviving in the wild argument is already null and void.
And sometimes, briefly, Mr Second-hand Cat will stop being a lump and wander outside of his own volition. Here, he will stand on the grass for a while; obviously pondering weighty philosophical and/or political questions, and perhaps even appreciating the feeling of a light breeze blowing through his long whiskers. Occasionally he will even limp into the kitchen and demand steak Dianne, or poached quail with Cheese Souffle.
So I’m a bit indecisive over what exactly is the best thing to do.
This is typical of me, because in euthanasia debates I’m never able to definitively pick a side.
As someone with a personal experience of chronic illness, I do have days when I wish I was dead. Days when I wake up feeling as though my lungs have been run over by twenty Tasmanian logging trucks. Or when I wake with yet another pounding CO2 headache from my oxygen concentrator (there’s a carbon tax joke in there, but I’m not sure what it is yet), or when all I can do is sit tiredly and lumpishly around the house for days, recovering from my latest thrilling supermarket trip or doctor’s appointment. It’s hard to imagine wanting to die from pure exhaustion, but believe me, it happens.
But then I have days when I can’t remember why I wished I was dead. Days when I wake up feeling not quite as bad (perhaps just one logging truck instead of twenty), and days when I even want to get out of the house and do things. It’s true that a ‘good day’ now is eons from what it used to be, yet somehow it still seems worthwhile.
One argument tweeted on Q&A last night was that disabled people would feel pushed into euthanasia as an alternative to burdening their families. This is a serious concern. The feeling of being a burden is a significant one, and not always tangible. It creeps up on you unawares. As does the feeling of marginalisation- of being squeezed out, as though there is no place for you in the world. You just don’t fit any more.
Being a burden and not fitting into able-bodied society is not the fault or the responsibility of the sick person. Society’s attitudes to disability and chronic illness in this regard need drastic change. It would be utterly unjust if the solution to social isolation and an overstretched, underfunded, health care system was assisted suicide. Monstrously unjust, in fact.
Also monstrously unjust is that there are people with terminal illness in unimaginable agony. If someone is in constant, unbearable pain and has no chance at all of surviving, why shouldn’t they be assisted to die?
I will continue to be pathetically indecisive over this one. In any case, the Second-hand Persian Cat will hopefully recover to the extent where he can enjoy life in some way for another couple of years.
This morning, he ate not one but two whole plates of food, and then sat in the garden and had some incredible insights into the likely direction of the Labor party. As so far no-one else in Australia seems to have achieved this, I have great hope for him.