A few months ago we moved from Sterling Park to Countryside. Milo had been limping a little during the move. But it has really been in the last month that he started dropping a lot of weight, stopped grooming himself, and started to become more and more immobile.
We were given a new medication that might make him feel more comfortable, but the meds do not address the growth directly. He was given about 6 months at most to live out in more or less the same condition he is now. And we were told, should he appear to be in more pain, we could certainly pursue measures to have him euthanized.
I know pets aren't people and I am sure that many catholics and other people of faith have euthanized their pets. Although I am not certain, I know that because there is a distinction between pets and people the prohibitions against euthanizing a person do not hold the same moral weight for a pet. Nevertheless, I wonder how one goes about deciding and making peace with this event?
For us catholics we often pray for the protection of innocent life from the moment of conception to natural death. So generally speaking, we must hold in high esteem the idea of living our lives to the fullest and facing our natural death in as natural a way as possible. Is it also natural for domesticated animals to meet their deaths at our hands and time of choosing?
Regardless of how you might feel about this and whether or not you yourself have gone through this experience, I think what holds true is that in this particular instance (that of euthanizing a pet), we are given the occassion and the means to bring to an end (whether it is morally questionable or not) a relationship that spans over time. In my case, my cat has been with us almost as long as I've been married to my wife. And while he certainly does not have the same level of claim of being in communion with me and my wife, he certainly has a depth of meaning and value.
In pastoral terms--and I may be stretching the analogy a bit--euthanizing a pet feels a bit like growing away from the church and becoming a lapsed catholic. The puppy-dog days of walking down the aisle for First Communion or having a picture with the Bishop at Confirmation, or remembering fondly how one entered the church either as an infant or through the catechumenate, counts for very little besides nostalgia and memory when the relationship is brought to an end: "I no longer go to church", "I no longer believe in God", "I don't really understand the sacraments" or, as is common, "I've stopped receiving communion since my divorce."
Only I think in this case, what is being euthanized (i.e. what is dying) is the person attempting to remove God from his or her life and God's relationship to us through sacraments. Sometimes too, it is the own mismatch between church "policy" and real world practice that creates the estrangement of a communicant from a faith community.
In a few days, weeks, or months, I may be asked to ease the pain of Milo and bid him to depart. And we will find skillful, humane, professional means to do this.
I just pray that we do not get too skillful at separating ourselves from what holds true meaning and value. What is after all a gift of life and sacred and holy. For however it matters to my cat, how much more for ourselves?
What do you think?