CAMLAW: Complementary and Alternative Medicine Law Blog

Cats predict death, dogs forestall disease

Not only can dogs detect bladder cancer, but animals generally seem to have a sixth sense for illness and even imminent death. The BBC World News reports on Oscar, the cat whose "show of affection has been used to warn families that their loved one has not long to go." Another case involves a dog who warns of an impending epileptic seizure. What accounts for such prescience?
An expert in animal behaviour in the UK, agrees the explanation is biochemical, rather than psychic.

"I don't doubt that the cat in this case is sensing death approaching. There's little we really know about it but as the body is shutting down, I would hypothesise that the cat is sensing and smelling the organs shutting down.... But there could also be a more simple explanation for Oscar's "ability", she says. "We change our behaviour when we know someone is dying, so animals will pick that up."
Hmmmmn. Occam's Razor at work, no doubt? It's easy to apply the simplest biochemical explanation to a complete mystery. What if there is a corollary to the razor, let's call it Occam's Shaving Cream, which applies in a parallel universe, and dictates that if there is competition between a biochemical and a psychic explanation, the latter trumps? It would be a kind of parallel to quantum physics operating at a different level than classical Newtonian, and creating paradoxes not possible in our normal world.

I'm placing my bets on Oscar being in tune with the soul's impending exit from the body. After all, cats can see auras, can't they? Notice the wide-eyed stare a few feet beyond your body. But of course, let's give the final word to the economist, who looks for a kind of risk-reward calculus by human's best friend:

"The question is what motivates a cat to engage in this behaviour. Dogs being trained to detect cancer are trained with a pay-off of play if they do the right thing and if it's your own dog they have a familiar affectionate relationship and will pick the site of the tumour. But a cat in a nursing home?"

And why not? I'm not a strict behaviorist, so I don't see everything in terms of "pay-off." The pleasure-pain principle that Freud articulated and others elaborated only goes so far in explaining Oscar's behavior in a nursing home. Maybe there's something else at work in Oscar. The principle of agape.
The Law Offices of Michael H. Cohen offers corporate legal services, litigation consultation, and expertise in health law with a unique focus on holistic, alternative, complementary, and integrative medical therapies. The law firm represents medical doctors, allied health professionals (from psychologists to nurses and dentists) and other clinicians (from chiropractors to naturopathic physicians, massage therapists, and acupuncturists), entrepreneurs, hospitals, and educational organizations, health care institutions, and individuals and corporations.

Michael H. Cohen is Principal in Law Offices of Michael H. Cohen and also President of a nonprofit organization exploring legal, regulatory, ethical, and health policy issues in the judicious integration of complementary and alternative medical therapies (such as acupuncture and traditional oriental medicine, chiropractic, naturopathic medicine, homeopathy, massage therapy, energy healing, and herbal medicine) and conventional clinical care. Michael H. Cohen is author of books on health care law, regulation, ethics and policy dealing with complementary, alternative and integrative medicine, including Healing at the Borderland of Medicine and Religion, Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Legal Boundaries and Regulatory Perspectives (1998), Beyond Complementary Medicine: Legal and Ethical Perspectives on Health Care and Human Evolution (2000), and Future Medicine: Ethical Dilemmas, Regulatory Challenges, and Therapeutic Pathways to Health Care and Healing in Human Transformation (2003).
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