Sunday, September 25, 2005

Life: Beginning and End

Abortion: I don't understand --
- When does that line gets crossed, and a zygote, becomes an embryo, then a fetus, and finally a baby? Why do some feel it is okay to abort a 'fetus' but that it's a miracle to save a 'baby' in-utero?
- When does a woman's Right to Choose change to a Requirement to Nuture?
- Didn't the woman have a right to choose when she had sexual intercourse? Pregnancy is a consequence of THAT choice. If you can't handle the consequence, don't perform the act. (I acknowledge that non-consensual intercourse takes place, but don't know what that means in terms of the status of the baby if pregnancy ensues)
- How can be it be okay for a mother to abort a fetus, but yet if that same fetus were killed without permission of the mother it is murder?

- We recently made the choice to euthanize a pet cat who has been a member of our household since it was born to a stray in our garage. He is 11 years old, but seems generally okay. However one day a few months back, we suspected he had lost his vision. The vet said he had hypertension and diabetes. We tried treating that with oral medications. He continued to lose weight (but did regain his sight). The vet put him on twice daily insulin, but the vet also offered to euthanize him rather than put us through the expense and bother of the insulin injections.

I expected the cat to put up a fight, making our decision whether to prolong his life an easy one -- he would be telling us not to torture him. But he accepted the shots just fine. However, the diabetes is still not controlled. The vet has kept cranking up the dosage. Now he has started urinating everywhere. It has became a choice of locking him in the basement for the rest of his life, with only closely supervised visits to our living quarters, or recognizing that he is an creature who has lived his expected life span, continuing to live only because we were literally pumping him full of medication and making regular trips to the vet to see if we were getting any level of control. The vet said we are only buying him a year max anyway.

We could withhold his insulin and let nature take its course. This was my first choice. You see, I have a lot of trouble deciding for a poor creature that can't talk to me that the time has come for his life to end. He's been a respected member of the household for a decade, and continues to be an affectionate pet. Who knows whether he is feeling good, or chronically yucky?

The wife said that withholding his insulin and letting him die naturally would be a slow and agonizing. She's right. Would it not be more compassionate to euthanize him now and allow him to avoid all that agony?

And what about the choice of continuing to treat him, but keeping him segregated from human contact so he can't 'mess up' our environment? Is it a good thing to continue to expend resources to keep him alive when he's going to die soon anyway?

I guess my problem is having the guts to make that decision on his behalf. It would be easier if he just died one day and took the decision out of my hands. Meanwhile, he's far too alive for me to end his life for my convenience.

(Update: Oreo was euthanized in Feb 2007 after a rapid decline in health brought on by advanced lung cancer. He had a good year after this piece was originally written).

How can I discuss abortion and pet euthanasia in the same essay? This isn't about equating a human baby to a pet cat.

But then, in a way it is.

In the natural world, the taking of life is a routine, normal, expected, and continuous act. Without exception, every species on the planet is prey to another. We humans even raise other species for no other reason than to consume them as food (I love the Douglas Adams commentary on this in the Hitchhiker's Guide -- where animals are raised not only to be food, but to desire to be food). To be sure, most of us are insulated from the act of walking a perfectly healthy animal up to the slaughter house and, in a matter of minutes, converting it from a living, breathing, sentient creature into a beheaded, gutted and skinned carcass on its way to our dinner table.

Other than the vegetarians of our species, we humans raise and slaughter untold millions of animals for no other reason than we like to eat meat. I like the comment: "If God didn't want us to eat animals, why did he make them out of meat?"

I'm a meat-eater. I also know that animals are sacrificed by the millions to test drugs, medical procedures and consumer products.

I have also kept pet fish, many of which were caught in the wild and distributed through the retail logistics system to get them to my local pet store. Many die on the way from their natural habitat to the pet stores. Sometimes one of them would die in my care. In some cases, the death was brought on by disease that that these creatures would not have encountered in their natural habitat. Other times specimens were eaten by other fish, perhaps because I put together combinations of animals that didn't encounter each other in the wild. Or maybe they did, and I was stupid enough to mix predator and prey. Either way, they died, and I contributed to their death.

I remember blubbering when our pet parakeet died back in the 1970s. Apparently parakeets don't live that long, and ours caught an infection, got sick, and eventually died. It was a very sad moment for me.

Guys are dying by the thousands in Iraq -- sent there by my government on my behalf. I had a part in their death, but show much less emotion hearing about the deaths of our troops than I did that watching that parakeet die in my hands.
You see, it's really all about relationships.

I don't know the cow that died for my dinner. In fact, I don't know any cows at all.

I never really had a relationship with the fish in my aquarium (although I did with one -- an Oscar). When they died, I mourned over the wasted money, not the animal.

But I interacted with the parakeet. He learned to make a few sounds that we took as words. It hurt when that interaction ended.

Our cat has been a good friend for a long time. Well actually, for most of his life, he stayed away from us and generally avoided interaction. He has a name the kids gave him, Oreo, but I rarely call him that. He is just "black kitty" to me. One day a few years ago, he decided to become social, and for the last year or so will jump up next to me on the couch and roll over so I could scratch his belly. It would hurt a lot to end that relationship. I'm not yet ready to make that decision. He's received a reprieve.

Abortion happens because the mother and father don't have a relationship with the fetus. I don't know whether abortion should be legal or not (my vote is not). But maybe a pregnant woman contemplating an abortion should have to watch a sonogram of the fetus so she knows there's a human being developing in there. Maybe in that moment, a connection will be made and the woman will decide to carry the baby to term.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a supporter of birth control. But I prefer approaches that prevent conception. Birth control pills, condoms, abstinence and sterilization are all okay with me. We need to get the human population in control.

But once a human life begins, it's murder to end it.

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