A brave and caring Montana judge, Honorable Dorothy McCarter, has just ruled that doctor assisted suicides are legal for terminally ill patients who suffer intolerable pain. Montana is the third state to provide the species this humane right. Two other states, Oregon and Washington, have gifted their citizens this same opportunity to end endless agony.
I find myself not much interested in the several legal arguments that are offered for or against providing human beings an end to unmitigated suffering. As I experience my eightieth year on this planet and consider the possibilities that may arise in my remaining years the issue transcends nice legalisms and moral imperatives and becomes very real.
The day before yesterday one of our labs ventured out on the paper-thin ice on our pond. The pond is deep and it is cold. You and I could not survive in those waters more than a minute or two. Alice (we named her after my grandmother) could not get back up on solid ground. But she was close enough that we were able to belly-out over the ice only a few feet with one of us holding on to the other, and to pull her out.
But what if she had been out in the middle of the pond, say, fifty feet from shore, the ice was too thin to bear our weight and no boat or other means were available by which to reach her? Would we simply stand there and watch her slowly, painfully, freeze to death and eventually, after many terror filled minutes slowly, agonizingly drown?
I have a rifle.
Most of us have had to put a pet “down” at one time or another. Assisted death for a pet is accepted in our culture. One of my friends just went through this with his dog. He reports how the animal seemed to know what was happening, that as the needle was painlessly inserted into his vein, and my friend was holding his faithful friend close to him and petting him, the dog looked up with peaceful eyes and wagged his tail as if to say he understood and was grateful.
But Dr. Kevorkian, in Michigan, was prosecuted as a common criminal numerous times for his heroic effort to end such suffering in the human animal. Geoffrey Fieger (later my client) successfully defended the doctor on six occasions. Finally the good doctor believed he would be able to defend himself, but a Michigan jury convicted him of second degree homicide. After spending eight years in prison he was recently released on parole. What more needs to be said about the anomaly in the human organism that loves and respects its pets more than members of its own species?
Can it be that our pets are more loved and more deserving of our compassion than we?