One of the most awful conversations I’ve ever had was with my mother who, dying of cancer after months of traumatic, expensive and ultimately useless chemotherapy and yet more months of calamitously declining quality of life, said (referring to my two sisters and me), ‘I wish one of you had married a vet – because then he could just put me down.’
It’s utterly unthinkable to me that we don’t have control over our own deaths – that we can’t legally choose to end our lives, for whatever reason. It’s an open secret that morphine overdoses are frequently (if quietly) administered to people in hospital dying slowly and horribly, yet from time to time an ‘example’ must be made of those who help their loved ones die with dignity, like Sean Davison. For my mother, the final straw (on top of so, so many others) was when the hospice nurse arrived on a Friday afternoon with a commode and a wheelchair: not only could my mother – a joyously energetic and creative woman when she was healthy – no longer walk, she could no longer go to the toilet on her own. It was no coincidence that she died the same weekend.
In those last few months, my mother often told us that she wanted to die: her refrain to me was ‘I’m so tired‘. She was quite literally tired of the effort it took to go on living, without anything to make it worthwhile: she had no appetite, and took no pleasure from food (a tragedy for someone who adored cooking); she couldn’t knit or read, and even watching TV exhausted her; her passion for gardening was a distant memory; she was constantly bone-cold; some of her medications made her constipated and nauseous, while others made her paranoid, and she often scratched at her face and hair as if bugs were crawling on her; she cried frequently – honestly, if I’d had a dog in her condition and didn’t do the humane thing and put it out of its misery, I would fully expect to be prosecuted for cruelty.
Which brings me to animals, and how they feel pain. My Wobbly Dog, Sara (above, having a companionable moment with one of the household cats, Maui), has had to endure much in her 6-or-so years: a puppyhood of violence and neglect, a scorpion sting, epilepsy, chronic tremors, misalignment of her spine, lameness – really, it’s all been A Bit Much. She limps heavily and often keeps her lame foot off the ground, so I’m aware that she’s in some discomfort – I just don’t know how much. But sometimes, when she’s had a particularly bad day or night (fitting often and sometimes unable to walk – when she has bad times, they’re baaad), she looks at me with an expression that rips my heart out: I can hear her saying, ‘Please, I’ve had enough.’
I haven’t been able to bring myself to even think about life without Sara, so I’m nowhere near the reality of having her put down – but I do wonder when that point will be. I don’t want her to be on painkillers or other powerful medication for years (she’s no longer on epilepsy meds because they made her so sleepy and lethargic she was barely living a life) but I don’t want her to suffer needlessly either.
How do you know?