I assisted Lucy to die today. Although she could not tell me her wishes at the end, I thought I had to be cruel to be kind. She had been a valued member of our family for 20 years, and wonderfully affectionate for so long. In the last nine months of her long life, she had become very arthritic and her mobility was limited to staying around the house. She hid away and slept most of the time, lost her appetite and didn’t look after her appearance they way she used to. Her status as the grand old lady of the house created some jealousy among the other residents. It brings a lump to my throat as I write this but today she seemed to have a minor stroke and we found her walking around in circles looking lost and confused. Out of kindness we had her put down. It was quick and I stayed with her until the end. Now she is home again and buried in the garden she loved.
Twenty years is a long life for a cat, but how much more complicated this chapter of her life would have been if she were human.
The same day I read an article in the Times about Debbie Purdy, the lady with Multiple Sclerosis who wants to know that her husband would be free from prosecution if he helped end her life, at some point in the future when she was too frail to do it by herself.
As a sufferer from MS, I found it difficult to read about Debbie’s case, it was easier not to think about it than to confront the issue head on. Debbie must have thought that too, especially when so many people found it easy to pronounce on the matter with great self-righteousness. Life looks simpler from the lofty pedestal of good health.
Debbie and her husband are young enough not to have raised their heads above this parapet of taboo’s about assisted suicide. So what a brave decision it was to talk about an issue which usually only has meaning when its too late to talk. Yet really the only time to confront it is when it must be painful in your heart to do it. That’s real bravery.
The parallel with Lucy is not a trivial one. It had crossed our minds months ago to have her ‘put to sleep” but we hung on to her life because she was precious to us and because deciding to end her life was not easy. She could not tell us her wishes nor could she choose when to die. When the decision was made there was no-one to judge us but ourselves and no-one questioning our right to do it. “Being cruel to be kind” were the only words of condolence.
If we can be kind to cats shouldn’t we, with appropriate safeguards, be able to extend this kindness to humans. As medical advances allow us to prolong life, isn’t it time we had a much more open discussion about living wills ?
God Bless you Lucy and thank you Debbie for the courage to think ahead.