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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

The long goodbye

Just because you can extend a life doesn't mean you should. No, not your grandmother. Your cat.

Even as I said it, I knew it was ridiculous and selfish. “Just promise you’ll make it till my 30th birthday,” I said quietly to Kitty, my tiny ten-year-old cat. We were both underneath my bed, where she’d decamped the minute we returned home from a long day at the vet. Earlier that day, she’d been diagnosed with a terminal heart condition. Nearly two and a half years later, she’d die from it, in a cold and unfamiliar emergency room in the middle of the night.

This was a longer prognosis than any vet predicted, and yet, in the months since her death, I can’t stop wondering whether I did the right thing in delaying the inevitable for so long. The twice-a-day pills, the bimonthly visits to the veterinary cardiologist (which almost always included a chest tap, a risky, invasive procedure that drained fluid from in and around her lungs), not to mention the vast sums of money spent on it all: Were these things really for her, or were they mostly, selfishly, for me? Saying good-bye to a pet has never been easy, but advances in modern veterinary care can make it near-impossible for pet owners to know when to let go. It’s an ethical quandary that’s in some ways unsettlingly similar to aging and end-of-life issues currently plaguing human medicine: Just because we can extend a life, should we?

She isn't being as coy as those opening two paragraphs suggest. The title of the piece is "I Spent Thousands to Keep My Sick Cat Alive. I Don't Think I'd Do it Again."

When my cat Pierre had a liver problem, I spend $1,200 to bring him back from the brink. That gave him several more good years, and I've never regretterd spending the money. But she spent thousands and got her cat just two more years, which were not exactly good years for the cat. I understand both her decision to extend the cat's life and her reluctant realization that maybe that wasn't the right thing to do.

Increasing numbers of us see our pets as members of the family. That doesn't make them people, but it does earn them more consideration in the decisions we make about them. Veterinary medicine has made some of the same strides human medicine has, so it is possible to keep extending their lives even when it might not be the best idea. Since our pets can't tell us the kinds of tradeoffs they'd prefer, and what constitutes a quality of life for them, we face the ethical dilimma of whether we're acting in our pets' best interests or our own selfish ones.

Posted in: All about me