I’m a little late on this, but I came across Liz Jone’s Saturday column when I was looking for stories about cancer, and found it odd. It poses a question which, while it probably wouldn’t have occurred to us to ask, is a very, very good one:
“I’ll be with my cat when he dies, so why do I let my mum suffer alone?”
It’s a question I think Liz fails to answer, but in an interesting way. Take the cat:
“My cat is very sick at the moment. He is under the care of two vets – one holistic, the other conventional – and a psychic healer….I hand-feed him tempting titbits and give him Evian in a pipette and clean up his mess – he often throws up, like a cancer patient.”
Which may seem extreme, but I last came across Liz when she was in a famine-strewn part of Africa to raise money for donkeys, and in that context it’s actually quite refreshing. Too often Daily Mail columnists manage to take contrary positions in different articles on the same page, so it is good to see someone committed to a position across entire articles, months apart. Liz likes animals at home, she likes animals in Africa. This consistency is to be applauded. How laudable the is actual position she’s committed to is debatable, as are the methods she’s chosen in following it – I’d like to see the psychic healer work their magic on cats in some controlled conditions before I conclude she’s actually doing her best by the animal, or possibly some blind taste tests for cats to see if they can distinguish pipetted Evian from mere Highland Spring before I conclude she’s spending money wisely – but there’s no need to get too uptight about things. Liz is clearly caring and empathetic, which is a ray of light in some otherwise very dark pages. And beneath the seeming banality of an article about concern for cats, we have an article about dignity and mortality:
“Always at the front of my mind is that he should be allowed to retain his dignity – which he has, so far, just – and that when the time comes, when he has lost any point in being a cat, no longer has any enjoyment in life and is in pain, I will hold a conference call with his three professional healers and I will ask them to end his suffering.”
Liz is alert to the suffering and the dignity of her animal and will put it out of its misery when the time comes. Her mother, on the other hand:
“I hate seeing my mum with no dignity, but I could never help her end her life.”
And so we have this divergence, the mother on the one side, alone and unloved, not relieved of her lack of dignity or the pain of the memories that resurface through her dementia, and the cat on the other. So why this difference between them? Erm, not sure – the candidates are:
“I asked my friend Chris – whose young daughter is in a persistent vegetative state, who is blind and bedridden, cannot eat or talk, but who can certainly feel pain from an infected toe that was never the same again after she injected heroin into it – whether her daughter should be allowed to die and she fiercely answered: ‘No, of course not.’ Her daughter can still feel love.”
1. The capacity to feel love, which I would imagine Liz feels the cat has. Interestingly, in this respect it has the advantage over the patient in the persistent vegetative state, as that condition is marked by a complete lack of awareness; and:
“She is so selfless, she would be doing it for me as much as for herself.”
2. The fact that the mother might be able to desire death for multiple reasons. Which doesn’t answer the question either – in fact, it ducks it.It follows from ‘I could never help her end her life’, so is Liz’s reason for why the assisted suicide couldn’t happen, but at this point negates the point of the article, which is seemingly to discuss euthanasia:
“Patricia Hewitt, the former Labour Health Secretary, wants to legalise euthanasia. Would I make the decision for my mum to end her life, because she certainly cannot make it for herself?”
Now, Patricia Hewitt wants to decriminalise assisting suicide, which is different from euthanasia and which wouldn’t cover Liz’s mother since she is not capable of making the decision to die. The question of selflessness wouldn’t come into it – dementia patients don’t have the wherewithal to sacrifice themselves, even if they wanted to, which Liz clearly knows. The question is not whether Liz’s mother would want to die, but why Liz feels she should be treated differently from her cat and put down when life becomes too painful and undignified. Liz’s answer in the final sentences is to a different question from the one in the rest of the article.
The cat wouldn’t be covered by Hewitt’s amendment. Neither would Liz’s mother. The selflessness isn’t an issue, the capacity to love isn’t the difference. Having posed a question about euthanasia, Liz completely fails to answer it. Why does she treat the cat differently? Why is the mother not eligible for the peaceful death of the animal; or, why is the cat not sustained until the limits of its life? We still don’t know. Which leaves us one final question: apart from adding to the Mail‘s growing dementia strand¹, what was the point of this column?