I've never understood why we treat our pets better than people.
I grew up with a black cat named Stinker Annie. She was my boon companion and my protector. When I was a baby, she watched over me like I was her own: my mother tells me that every time I cried, she'd run to get my mom, and then run back to me and meow a message that help was on the way. Once, believing Mom was hurting rather than helping me, she jumped on Mom's back with claws out, attempting to save me. She was there for every moment of my life, one of my best friends.
She developed stomach cancer when I was eight or ten. We knew something was wrong when she started sneezing blood. We took her to the vet, who diagnosed the cancer and informed us there was nothing we could do. There wasn't any kitty chemo in those days. We were going to lose her. Did we want to euthanize?
No. Not yet. She wasn't yet in obvious pain. She still ran and played and cuddled. We took her home, and spoiled her rotten, and kept a sharp eye out for signs of distress. She lived on for nearly a year before she started showing signs of discomfort, and the cancer may have spread to her brain, because she started having "senior moments." She couldn't take care of herself anymore. She didn't seem to be enjoying life. So we packed her into the car and headed off to the shelter to have the deed done. We cried, and she cried, and it was one of the most horrible things we've ever had to do. Mom wouldn't let me be there at the end, but she was. Stinker Annie ended her life with the people who had loved her best, before the pain got too much to bear.
Years later, I watched another cat die in screaming agony because its owner couldn't accept the inevitable. Months of suffering, followed by a horrific night where the poor thing never stopped howling until its final breath.
I bring up this study in contrasts because humans have no choice. Legally, we are required to force our loved ones to stick it out until the bitter end, no matter that the quality of life is nonexistent, no matter that pain medication is worthless when the pain exceeds the capacity of all but lethal doses to ease.
I've always been horrified by the fact that we can't legally end human life when it's become intolerable, but we'd consider it abuse not to euthanize a pet in the same situation.
After my grandmother died of a combination of Alzheimer's and breast cancer, my mom called me. "Promise me you'll shoot me if this happens to me," she begged. "Don't let me die like this." I don't know that I'd shoot her, but there are "accidents" that could happen. In the stress of taking care of an Alzheimer's patient, I might measure a dose of medication wrong. I might forget to secure a dangerous drug, and she in her dementia might overdose herself. I'll find a way to keep the spirit if not the letter of the promise I made her: that I'll let her end her life on a high note, before things get really awful. When there's no hope of a cure, when there's no possibility of dying in anything but pain and humiliation, mind destroyed, there's no greater act of love than to let things end gracefully before it comes to that nasty pass.
I'll treat her with the same love and respect with which we've treated our pets, and I know she'll do the same for me, whether or not it's legal. We both believe that life is far more than just breathing. It's quality, not quantity, that matters.
If I'm lucky, and Washington State voters wise, that choice for us will be legal.
If Initiative 1000 is approved, a doctor can do what vets do every day: let a decision be made, and if that decision is to end the suffering, then provide the means to do so. The religion-blind, of course, won't see what a blessing that choice is. They won't understand the relief people like my mom and I would feel at knowing we won't have to break the law, strike out on our own, to ensure that our loved one's death is as easy and painless as possible. My mom and I can live a little easier if we know that we can choose to die with our minds still intact. The diagnosis won't bring as much fear if we know we have the choice to end life before the disease gets really bad, and that we won't be committing a crime by opting for euthanasia. Knowing this, we'll be able to squeeze every drop of good life out of us before going in to that good night.
Life is precious. My mother and I know that. We also know that life is a lot more than breathing and a beating heart. Life is too precious to waste its last hours on pain and fear and insensibility.
If you love life, if you value life, as something more than a technicality, vote Yes on Initiative 1000. Allow people the same dignity and respect we show for pets. Allow them a choice.
(Tip o' the shot glass to Dan Savage by way of Pharyngula.)