Animals, unlike most humans, cannot give consent when it comes to medical procedures. Dr. Eric Barchas raised this issue last week in his Ask a Vet column when writing about so-called “kitty liposuction” on overweight cats. Barchas berated vets who perform this procedure because (a) it’s problematic and potentially harmful to cats, (b) the vets who perform the procedure do so during other operations without clearing it with the cats’ owners, and (c) it’s “elective” surgery, and cats are not able to give consent.
It’s the last part of Barchas’ reasoning that is relevant to me today. Barchas differentiates between elective surgery and other types by stating, “in veterinary medicine, surgery should be performed only if the patient derives benefit from it, and if the benefit outweighs the pain and the risks of complications.”
This came to mind when I saw a story on the web a couple of days ago that, to me, presents a big slimy bog of an ethical quagmire. In that story, a Virgina couple named Fred Petrick and Tony Lacari adopted a cat (Joey) so he could “donate” a kidney to save another of their cats (Arthur), the Daily Mail reported. They paid $15,000 for the transplant on Arthur when he was two years old.
Here’s part one of the ethical quagmire: The only benefit Joey derived from his operation is the fact that the kidney saved Arthur’s life. But Joey doesn’t know that — he can’t, he’s a cat, incapable of that level of abstract thought. So where’s the benefit?
Hold on, hold on. Don’t jump to the comments and rip me to shreds. I’m not done yet.
Here’s part two of the quagmire: Joey now has a home. Without Fred and Tony, he might have spent the rest of his life in a shelter — and if he was on death row, his life might have been pretty short. His having a home with Fred and Tony was a condition of the University of Georgia performing the procedure. The transplant was done in 2014, according to UGA News Service. Also, Fred and Tony will have to give Arthur medication for the rest of the cat’s life so his body doesn’t reject the new kidney. According to the Daily Mail story, Arthur and Joey have become really good friends.
So, which part of this ethical argument wins for you? Really, I can’t figure it out. It’s bad to adopt a cat with the express purpose of sending him to surgery to lose an organ unnecessarily. Just the same, it’s good that the cat will have a loving home, and that his organ will save the life of a cat, even though he won’t know that.
What do you think? What’s a human’s ethical obligation in this case? Would you adopt a cat if it means saving one you’d already adopted?
About Keith Bowers: This broad-shouldered, bald-headed, leather-clad motorcyclist also has passions for sharp clothing, silver accessories, great writing, the arts, and cats. This career journalist loves painting, sculpting, photographing, and getting on stage. He once was called “a high-powered mutant,” which also describes his cat, Thomas. He is senior editor at Catster.