I've just got back for a visit to my local vet. Not the usual call for flea treatment or something unpredictable but instead, given that I own five cats aged betwen fifteen and seventeen, the first of a series of visits that would eventually have to be made.
Last year, Victoria, my black and white cat, contracted cancer and underwent fairly radical surgery, involving the removal of most of her ear canal. It was hoped at the time that all of the malignant material had been removed but, in recent weeks, it became apparent that there was a problem.
Steeling myself, I took Victoria to the vet, fearing the worst and so it came to pass. What to do? Having undergone surgery so recently, and experienced such trauma, I honestly couldn't put her through it again, especially given the reality that even further invasive surgery would merely buy her a few more months. And so, dear reader, I decided to have her put to sleep.
I've always been in favour of euthanasia. I understand that there are ethical and moral concerns, and the risk that unscrupulous relatives might influence a seriously ill person into making a decision that might be the wrong one. However, freedom to live must also imply a freedom to decide that life is no longer preferable, subject to a robust framework and proper psychological evaluation.
There are those, particularly in the Catholic Church, who believe that to even countenance such a debate is the beginning of a slippery slope towards an amoral society, where the value of a human life becomes a matter of pragmatic economics rather than a contemplation of the human soul. Let me tell you, given the trauma of choosing such an option for a domestic house cat, I cannot imagine how much more ghastly having to make that choice on behalf of another human being would be, even if they had signed a 'living will'.
But it is surely better to consider the quality of someone's life. Fifty or more years ago, medical science had far less in the way of tools to maintain life. The issue of whether to keep someone alive or not was, for the most part, fairly irrelevant. The wonders of modern science allow us choices that our grandparents never had but they also offer us challenges. We human beings have never wanted to die quietly, raging against that dark night as a poet famously wrote. If modern technology can keep us alive, then many of us will want to take that chance, regardless of cost, regardless of probability.
The Catholic Church seldom protests about this, probably a good thing. However, might it not be helpful if they, claiming as they do to be a force for moral good, gave some thought as to the moral dimensions of chronic pain, ill-health and quality of life, rather than simply reprising their role as the opponent of modern scientific thinking that they've got down to such a fine art?