Dear Miss Manners: Is Wally the Hamster Actually Dead?

Dear Miss Manners:

Our son's class pet died today: Wally the Hamster. Wheel collapse. Terribly tragic.

His teacher, Ms. Heidi, says the children are obviously bereaved, asking thousands of questions about death—challenging questions, for sure! To quell the suffering and keep school fun, she suggested that parents talk to their kids about any concerns. But now, after discussing it with our son over dinner, we wonder if Wally is truly dead!

I’m concerned for Ms. Heidi. How do we break the news? A cause is a cause (in context, of course), but what if most causes are only probably true?! Like everything in life, death is weird like that, too.

Maybe we’ll just wear black until it’s resolved. I hear it’s the best attire when you’re sure you’re just not sure at all.

Parenting Post-Determinism

Dear PP-D:

Sorry to hear about Wally. Perhaps the class can find comfort in an uplifting sentiment from Steve Jobs: "Death is very likely the single best invention in life." Savvy, turtleneck-clad, smart kid, that Mr. Jobs. Too bad he's dead as well.

Speaking of probably true: I realize Wally is a hamster, but had he petitioned to change his legal status to person? Hamsters and humans both belong to the Kingdom Animalia and Class Mammalia, descending from a common ancestor 75 million years ago. Over 90% of the hamster DNA sequence exists in humans! You may want to check his affiliation with the Nonhuman Rights Project (NRP). They will know the proper guidelines.

Miss Manners

Dear Miss Manners:

It appears that chimpanzees are the most active litigants for the NRP, but their rights have not yet been conferred—hung up in appeal! Does 90% of common DNA equal 90% certainty? I just don’t know. It seems harder to explain probability to our first grader. Maybe harder than death or taxes.

Did you know? Brain death can happen without circulatory death. Wally could be legally dead without being clinically dead. So, dead isn’t necessarily dead?

Confused, but not dead or dead (that I’m aware),

Dear PP-D:

Of course, you’re still confused. No one said death was easy.

It's all quite clear. He has to be dead in both ways. Make sure:

1. everything has stopped: breathing, heart, brain
2. the death certificate is from a reputable veterinarian

Those fly-by-night doctors could turn this situation into a nightmare. You'll need multiple copies to handle Wally's affairs.

Miss Manners

Dear Miss Manners:

Good points.

But are you aware of Vesicular Monoamine Transporter 2 (VMAT2)? I think the kids are calling it the God Gene. Researchers believe it may alter monoamine levels in a way that predisposes some Mammalia to mystical, God-like experiences. It’s found on Chromosome 10 in humans and Chromosome 19 in rats! And speaking of God, if Wally is dead and/or dead, aren’t there special rites we have to perform in recovering his body depending on his religion?


Dear PP-D:

Well, is Wally Jewish? It may be pertinent.

"If a building collapses on a person on the Sabbath they may dig to remove the rubble from him to try to save his life. But if he is dead, they leave him there until after the Sabbath because it is forbidden to dig on the Sabbath. How far does one check to determine whether or not he is dead? Until his nostrils and some say his heart." - Talmud Tractate Yoma 85a

I suggest the conservative approach: until nostrils and heart. Just clinically dead. But not brain dead, so not legally dead. Unless the Talmud is the only law. Except there's local law. State law. Federal law. Ms. Heidi’s law. She might require less paperwork and spiritual reflection.

Again, a good vet. Don't waste money on one of those unrated Yelp ones. You might want to consult Angie's List.

Miss Manners

Dear Miss Manners:

Oh, that’s very helpful, thank you!

But we’re still not sure what happened. How can we justify death to our son if we don’t know why? Cause and effect, right? But not Newton or LaPlace - more like Planck or Schrodinger. "C"ausality isn't the same as "c"ausality. Hamsters who may one day count as humans don’t behave like random points in space.

Wally had a cage mate. The wheel fell. Maybe Mate killed Wally! But how can we be certain? We’re all concerned with Determinism - perhaps it was Predeterminism!

Fate makes me anxious,

Dear PP-D/P-PD(?):

Relax. Let's be pragmatic.

If Mate trapped Wally under the wheel, then there's Homicide, of which, First Degree Murder, Felony Murder, Murder, Voluntary Manslaughter, Involuntary Manslaughter.

Justifiable Homicide is not a crime. Except then you have Excuse, Justification, Exculpation.

Self-defense. Did they get along?

Stand your ground. Okay, maybe.

Capital punishment, Loss of control, Necessity. Not applicable.

Euthanasia. By God? Fate? Mate? Hamster wheel? Is there a form for that? Not quite legally dead, right? Gotta get that cleared up.

Local. State. Federal. Ms. Heidi. I forgot about the school. They all have rules. They say for sure.

But what if Mate ignored Wally trapped under the wheel? Duty to Rescue. Common law in most English-speaking countries says Mate is off the hook (shocker).

Unless Hazardous Situation!

Mate rode that wheel moments before Wally’s death and created an unsafe situation? That's trouble. Tortfeasor Hamster. Kind of sounds like a comic book. Or the English translation of a K-Pop album. Unless Mate is Jewish too, and it's the Sabbath. Then dead hamster is cool. Clinically dead only.

Just the facts,
Miss Manners

Dear Miss Manners:

I’ll search Angie’s List for a trial lawyer. This could get ugly.

But what about the smell? That's actually cadaverine and putrescine. Decomposing amino acids. Necrosis. Science says dead, for sure.


Dear PP-D/P-PD(?):

Stinky would indicate clinically and legally dead. Wally's not paying back his debts in that condition. But some say he could still collect benefits and vote. Supposedly millions do it.

Dead. Real. Faked. Even Homicide, of which, First Degree Murder, Felony Murder, Murder, Voluntary Manslaughter, Involuntary Manslaughter. Justifiable Homicide? Well, maybe that one, but now it seems unlikely we’ll recover the forensics to know for sure. Also, not sure how the taxes work, then.

Miss Manners

Dear Miss Manners:

So, we need a tax accountant, too? We may have to launch a Kickstarter to cover the expenses. But crowdfunding requires great pictures. Does the Talmud prevent photo documentation? Dead or dead, we need a photogenic body!

Oh no. What if rodents eat Wally before shoveling of the wood chips can begin?

Predation, probably. But does a rat eat a "rat"? Not officially prey. Just easy prey. Do the rats know the difference? The scientists sure do. Carcass, Carrion, Skeleton. The opposite of malnutrition. Or starvation. Or dehydration. But not "death by wheel." Intention is complex, you know. Funny how that works.

I hope those rats aren't persons. That's cannibalism. Pretty gross AND illegal.

Death is hard!

Nauseous now,

Look, PP-x:

A fact is a fact. Dead is dead. Or invented. 10,000 times over. Depends on who you talk to. And if they're a hamster. Or a rat. Or a person. Only 10% difference, or something like that, they say.

But the kids are asking you and you are asking me. So, I say he's dead.

RIP Wally. And bereaved children. And parents of bereaved children. And Truth. And Determinism. And Predeterminism, too.

Miss Manners

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