The story appeared, astonishingly, in The New England Journal of Medicine in the summer of 2007. Adopted as a kitten by the medical staff, Oscar reigned over one floor of the Steere House nursing home in Rhode Island. When the cat would sniff the air, crane his neck and curl up next to a man or woman, it was a sure sign of impending demise. The doctors would call the families to come in for their last visit. Over the course of several years, the cat had curled up next to 50 patients. Every one of them died shortly thereafter.
This article asks many fascinating questions, and leaves unasked many more.
- If you could know in advance how long you are going to live, would you want to know?
- Is this something medically ‘knowable’ or does it depend on you, your thoughts, your wishes as yet unformed?
- Can a computer do, in principle, anything a cat can do?
- Do animals have access to instinctive ways of knowing that in humans of Western culture have atrophied from disuse?