Assisted Dying for Cats and People

Cat euthanasia can be abused,

while assisted dying for people is underused. Discuss.

What is “assisted dying”? For me, it means a person helping another person to voluntarily die because they are terminally ill. It is a form of euthanasia. A person requires assistance because he or she, voluntarily of their own free will, takes prescribed medication to end their life. Unless you are a doctor someone else has to prescribe it, prepare it and give you the medication.


The difference between cats and people is that the person elects to die while someone decides for a cat. The cat makes no choice, which is a mute point because sometimes a cat can tell you in various ways that it is time to go.

In human terms, cat euthanasia is murder. Cat euthanasia is not assisted dying. Assisted dying implies that the person who wants to die requests assistance. A cat cannot make that request.

However, there are strong similarities because in both someone assists in the killing. How does that person feel?

It is often the responsibility of a compassionate cat caretaker to assist in the death of their terminally ill cat. This is when euthanasia means what it says. Genuine euthanasia is compassionate. It is the right and loving thing to do but it is hard on the person.

Does a person, who for genuine and caring reasons, feel guilty when they ask their vet to euthanise their beloved cat? This is deliberate killing, make no mistake about it. Tears will flow and the anguish will run deep – if you care, and you should. You will never forget the moments in the surgery. They will be seared into the brain in vivid technicolor.

But guilt? No. I felt anguish then relief and terrible sadness. Was my feelings of relief for me — to be off the hook of worrying about my very sick cat? Or was I relieved that my cat would no longer suffer the pain of a long chronic illness? I don’t know.

What I do know is that when euthanasia is done properly for the right reasons in a caring and controlled way, there is no doubt in my mind that it is good. It is more than good; it is sensible.

That is why I have exactly the same feelings about euthanasia for people. This may shock some people but I see no difference, in essence, in euthanizing cats or people. There is a difference at a practical level because (a) in general people believe that the human is more important than the cat and therefore needs more protection to ensure that deliberate killing for the right reasons is controlled and (b) someone makes the decision for the cat.

There lies the problem: establishing sufficient safeguards for people who are candidates for assisted dying and who want help to die.

Which leads me nicely to the lack of safeguards in the euthanasia of cats and the abuses that result. There should be greater safeguards over the euthanasia of cats and dogs. Only a vet should do it. The vet should be independent of the owner of the cat.


People involved in the process of cat euthanasia can learn from the parallel process of human assisted dying. In some places more care needs to be exercised in cat euthanasia and in all countries a more open, less fearful and more practical attitude needs to be developed in respect of assisted dying for people.

Note: I accept other opinions and respect them.

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Assisted Dying for Cats and People — 26 Comments

  1. A real heavy subject.
    Agreed. Killing and euthanasia are very different issues.

    I’ll start with killing. I’ve never intentionally killed any living being. I don’t even think I could kill in self-defense. What I do know is that I could be provoked to violence if I witnessed an animal being abused. Whether that would lead to a killing is anybody’s guess. Adrenaline pumping and sheer rage can interfere with rational thinking.
    Aside from provocation, I don’t know how “rational” people who purposely take any animal to a facility for the purpose of being killed, pull the switch on an electric chair, or fire a gun can live with themselves.

    Euthanizing an animal for the “right” reasons is difficult but a kindness and loving thing.
    As you said, people make those decisions.
    As far as humans, I believe that any rational, coherent, alert individual has the right to carry out their life end in any manner they wish and without interference. Unfortunately, these sick and dying people are made to suffer until they finally succumb. Why do we ignore their rights and desires? Do we think they’re crazy? Do we think the outcome will be a positive?


    • Exactly Dee – the crazy ones are the ones who insist they speak for everybody and that insist that each individual should not have the choice of what to do with their own life.

      I mean for crying out loud if there is one thing the bloody government shouldn’t own it is my own life – and whether I chose to keep it or not.

      It’s beyond ridiculous to look at it any other way.

      • I agree Marc and Dee I have very strong feelings about this; it should be a basic human right ‘To be allowed to die with dignity in a place and at a time we choose’

        If someone is terminally ill and they are going to die a very painful degrading death why wouldn’t we want to avoid that?

    • I tend to agree with you. People don’t choose to come into the world. That is one reason why they have the right to choose to leave.

      It is a heavy a subject but it shouldn’t be. Death is one part of life like any other part.

      People who abuse cat euthanasia are committing a crime everytime yet they get away with it because no one cares.

      It is the way it works. A cat’s life in some parts of the West is as important as a person’s life in certain parts of the world.

      We shouldn’t be ranking lives in importance.

      People fear death. Cats don’t. One day people will be able to choose when to die. We are progressing to the situation.

  2. Our late mother and our cat Bryan both had inoperable cancer.
    We watched our mother suffer pain and anguish and she was weary to the bone, the last weekend of her life is still unbearable to remember. The doctor came out and gave her morphine and said she was so near death she would be gone by morning, she wasn’t, she woke up to another day of terrible suffering.
    Bryan had lost weight, stopped eating and hid away, the vet came out to our house and he had a gentle and peaceful end to save him from more pain. Yes it was heart breaking for us but we had been able to end his suffering.
    When a person is terminally ill and without hope and has had enough of life then in my opinion its cruel to keep them alive.
    But I suppose if euthanasia was legal for people it would sometimes be abused like it is for animals.

    • I agree Ruth – but ‘abused’ how? If somebody wants to abuse an open euthanasia law I would assume that would mean opting for it too soon, or when still healthy. In that case good for them. If a person wants to die then the worst thing you can do is make them do it in some horrible way because its not legal and they cannot be helped.

      My granny had a stroke and instead of her life ending peacefully she lived 2 years in a hospital bed wishing she wasn’t there. It’s like the whole smoothness and goodness of her life got a great big slap in the face and she just had to sit there wishing she was dead for 2 years. IT was a huge relief when she died but the whole thing left an awful legacy – bad taste – bad memory for everybody involved. It cost a fortune too. Absurd beyond the realm of believable reality.

      • Well I would think a person opting for euthanasia would have to sign at some point to give permission for a doctor to end their lives.
        Old ill or disabled people especially can feel to be a nuisance to their family, how many might feel they are doing the right thing by signing, rather than the family having to care for them any longer?
        There are unscrupulous people who would encourage them to do that.
        Just as some people can’t be bothered to look after a sick pet for as long as that pet has quality of life there are people who feel that way about their old human relatives, I know because I’ve met a few!

    • I agree with you Ruth. Your mother was treated less well than Bryan as far as I am concerned.

      It is strange. I am sure we can devise something that tightens up cat euthanasia and loosens up assisted dying. That can’t be beyond our abilities.

      The abuse element for people comes in to play when a very old person who has dementia and is rich gets killed legally by a relative who is the beneficiary under her will or who forges her will. That is an example of the danger.

      As for cats, euthanasia is badly abused for money too – to make space for the next batch at a shelter.

    • Ruth your words were heart rending you must feel your dear mothers pain like it was yesterday I’m so sorry she had to leave you in that way, never in a million years would you want that for her and likewise she wouldn’t have wanted you to see her like that – I’m so sorry to hear that her last days were full of anguish.

      • Thanks Leah, the last 10 days of our mam’s life were truly awful and the last weekend I still can’t think about without feeling the hopelessness and horror of it again.
        Both Babz and I would have gladly taken her place to spare her, she hated hospitals so we were determined she died in her own bed at home with her family around her, that’s our only consolation.
        If the doctor had been able to give her a larger dose of morphine she would at least have been spared the last awful day. He had tears in his eyes because he’d looked after her for many years through her illnesses and disablement.
        I think some doctors must feel quite helpless in his situation.

  3. My mother suffered so for the last about 2 years of her life mentally and physically that I wished I could have done what I did for Tiggy for her too. I have been thinking about mother since I lost Tiggy last week and death and dying too.I wonder if euthanasia will ever be legal in this country?

  4. I was told by the end of life nurse who attended to my mom that she would have a peaceful death and I feel that she was right. I stayed with her as she was dying and thought every laboured breath would be her last I wanted to be with her when she died but she didn’t want that for me I left after spending all day and most of the early hours with her intending to return the next day however I got the call just as I pulled onto my drive. I think she wanted to protect me from the anguish of seeing her die; the very last thing she could do for her daughter.
    She lived with Alzheimers and Dementia for years and was at times like a tortured soul living in hell. She lost her dignity and would have hated to see herself like that. If I could have taken all that horror away and let her go peacefully all those years ago then I would have.

    • I remember the death of a neighbour who died of colon cancer. I was there at her death. The truth is that the MacMillan nurses euthanise terminally ill cancer patients who are dying at home. They give the morphine to kill the pain and give a bit too much which kills the patient. It is sort of an unwritten, unsaid human euthanasia just as we do with cats. It must happen a lot all over the country. The Liverpool Pathway, now stopped, was another form of human euthanasia.

  5. ‘But guilt? No. I felt anguish then relief and terrible sadness. Was my feelings of relief for me — to be off the hook of worrying about my very sick cat? Or was I relieved that my cat would no longer suffer the pain of a long chronic illness? I don’t know’

    Michael I very much agree with you this is how I have felt when I have had to end the life of a beloved family member after illness and on the advice of my vet. Yet even so I listen to all rationalities, I listen to family, I listen to my heart yet I am always racked with indecision and guilt – ‘am I doing the right thing’ ‘what if I give them another chance to recover?’

    After the inevitable, heart breaking decision the reality hits me that I will never see my beautiful precious friend again; I am inconsolable, yet every time I have said goodbye to one of my darlings I know in my heart that I have done the right thing. On occassions I wished I had done it sooner for their benefit rather than delay because I was unsure that what I was doing was in my cats best interests. Then after I am left feeling empty like my heart has been ripped out; I just feel this awful empty sadness.

    • I am the same. It is a roller coaster of emotions. At the vet’s surgery I went through agonies and tons of tears.

      For me I had 9 months of getting used to the idea which helped in one way but it was a very difficult nine months when she was dying. For me when the moment came I felt certain it was the right moment or the latest moment I could leave it. I felt sure it was the end. I gave food to my darling cat, she wouldn’t eat and looked up at me and with her eyes she told me it was time. It is clear in my head as if it was yesterday.

      The same sort of difficulties must happen with people who go to Dignitas, the Swiss place where you can end you life if you are terminally ill. But we have to go through them because it is better for the terminally ill cat or person.

      • Michael its one of the worst things we can go through and I was so very sad for you when you lost your beloved Binnie, I cried for you because I knew how much you were hurting.
        I will at some point go through it again with the cats I have now they are age 5, 4 and 3 but the thing is this is the price we have to pay for the loan of our beautiful friends who give us so much love and joy while they are with us. You did right by Binnie theres no doubt; she looked into your eyes because she knew it was time and so did you. We love them, take them to the vets, nurse them when they are sick, feed them, but then ultimately we have to let them go when their time comes. If we love them unconditionally we will know when that time is.

  6. I think it is always best to err on the side of life. Death is not our friend, it is our enemy. Our problem with modern medicine is that we can keep people alive long after nature would have brought a quick end. Sometimes this works out great and the person makes a full recovery. But what about the times where there has been brain damage or where lungs and body organs are damaged to the point that the person can no longer have a very good quality of life? Oops, we shouldn’t have intervened, but we did and someone is left alive and suffering who would just have died a hundred years ago. But we have no crystal ball.

    I was thinking of this over the summer working in acute care as a physical therapist assistant at a hospital hat specializes in people who need to be on ventilators. Some people walk out of there with no supplemental oxygen needed or just a little (the typical 2 liters per minute) while others never are able to get off the ventilator. We don’t know when we hook up a person to those machines what the outcome will be. I don’t agree with actually taking a life through poison, but I am all for a person’s right to say “enough already” and to be taken off the vent, off the feeding tube, off of dialysis to refuse chemo or radiation treatments or whatever other heroic measures could be taken. There have been cases where the courts forced a person to undergo chemo for their cancer when it was a young person– but an adult, not a child. That is wrong. Because we don’t really have a handle on cancer. It almost always comes back and chemo is painful and difficult. In the end it seldom buys more than five years of life, depending on where the cancer was located. No person should ever be forced to endure any medical treatment they do not want. If we could simply allow refusal of treatments many of the questions of euthanasia would not be necessary. We prolong life at any cost– at the cost of any sense of life, in a way. But we should never outright kill a human being– first do no harm. Humans learn and grow in suffering. The problem is that modern medicine can prolong and intensify that suffering beyond what any humans endured in all the previous centuries prior to the 20th Century.

    • Good comment Ruth. I agree that the underlying principle is “preserve life” but it has to be balanced with what the terminally person wants.

      If they want to go, let them. There is an almost manic desire to keep people alive driven by fear of death. It is as if people are frightened of assisting in someone’s death (on request) because they think it jeopardises their life indirectly.

      Death is not our friend but we shouldn’t be so frightened of it. A lot of people live too long nowadays.

  7. such a subject. I wouldn’t want my life prolonged if it was a waste and too painful maybe best not to take medication to prolong it is all that I can think.Poor Tiggy walked straight into her box to go to the vet I think she knew it was time bless her.

    • It is a tough subject but a very real one and a big one. I have a very practical approach to death 😉 I am more concerned about the death of my cats than my relatives.

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