Ethics Quiz: The Death Of Dr. Cat Pause [Corrected]

Massey University (New Zealand) Fat studies scholar Cat Pause ( I cannot determine if this was her real name) has died suddenly and unexpectedly. The PhD specialized in “Fat studies” and lectured on “fat positivity,” how to fight “fat stigma,” and achieving well-being for overweight people.

She was just 42 years old. [Notice of Correction: My original source said she was 50. That was wrong.]

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day—it’s more of a query than a quiz, really—is

What is the most ethical reaction to this news?

I ask because I’m puzzled, frankly. Obviously, it’s a tragedy for a woman to die so young. On the other hand, as Capt. Hook used to say, this doesn’t exactly validate her life’s work, does it? If you devote your research to showing how being obese is nothing to hide from, worry about or accept criticism for, I’m inclined to say that you better make damned sure you don’t drop dead suddenly at the tender age of 42. Isn’t this like defiant smokers getting lung cancer before retirement age, or Timothy Treadwell, aka “Grizzly Man,” getting mauled to death by a bear at 46?

Stipulated: It is mean and heartless to find such outrageously predictable demises funny, or to think, “They asked for it, they got it.” So what should we think that is constructive as well as compassionate?

26 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: The Death Of Dr. Cat Pause [Corrected]


        This is the first news report where I see it documents her age. Last night, I saw that a few people on twitter pointed it out she her age was 32 in an interview she gave 10 years ago. If I put 50 in the search bar your website is one of the top five results and I don’t see 50 in the ones before it, so I’m not really sure where your seeing it.

        Either way, I don’t think it changes your point.

        On a related note, I have noticed on twitter there are a lot of comments offering sympathy and condemning the trolls, but I can’t find any trolls. I’m sure they are out there, but the fact that it isn’t more obvious seems to me people are using this as an opportunity to not let a good tragedy go to waste.

        • Interesting: when I linked to the report in the post, the headline said “Massey University academic Cat Pause dies suddenly at 50.” Now the last two words are gone. Glad we have that straight…as you say, it’s not crucial to the issue at hand.

            • I’m going to say no because no one knows anything about her personal life (not even if she has a husband). If it was wouldn’t it be a matter of public record? In fact even the age42 seems to be largely based on the 10 year old intview she gave and not due to any documentation.

  1. Or Steve Irwin, stung to death by a stingray at the age of 44. Seriously, I think it’s perfectly ok to poke fun at the death of objectionable or stupid public figures. The left does it all the time. You should refrain, however, from poking fun at the death of ordinary people, since then you just look like a jerk.

  2. While the premature death of any contributing member of society is tragic, this woman’s (although I am not a biologist) early death is just another tragic example of what often happens to people who deny the likely -if not inevitable- consequences of the choices they make and the behaviors in which they engage. She serves as a cautionary tale for those who enable risky behaviors of all kinds. You can close your eyes, and your mind, to what you are doing to yourself, but that doesn’t make consequences go away. I realize that our culture has, on a superficial level, become body-image obsessed, but the myriad health issues directly linked to morbid obesity are well-known and rampant. Embracing one’s morbid obesity ultimately means (consciously or unconsciously) embracing the high probability of a shortened life.

    • When thinking of Jim Hodgson’s comment, you then see the ethical irresponsibility to ignore the truths and known science of such obesity to the point of teaching others to “embrace theirs” in a University (publicly), rather than teach healthy weight loss.

    • Interesting that you would mention this because due to the lies told by Pfizer, Merck, CDC, et al, when a young person dies inexplicably, I immediately assume they were vaccinated. In her case it’s certainly likely she was vaccinated due to her politics, but due to her obesity, it could certainly be that instead.

  3. I feel like there’s a difference between the death and the information or example it represents. Especially with a random figure that one has no reason to interact with, the civil and polite reaction is to say nothing in public. She’s a human being, and there are people out there who knew her as more than an activist or professor, and they should be allowed space to grieve. To do otherwise would be, to quote Capt. Hook, bad form.

    …Now, how you feel about it and what you say to your wife or close friends is your own business. Like inappropriate jokes and guilty pleasures, some things belong behind closed doors.

    All of that said, using it as an example in the larger debate is fine, whatever it’s worth. In that case it’s a matter of public record and evidence supporting rational argument, not emotional reaction, so you should refrain from mockery or celebration the same way you would with data on drug deaths or crime rates… no matter how beautifully it illustrates your point. Of course, examples like that aren’t worth much, there are always examples of both expected and ironic outcomes, which is why responsible statistical analysis is a better tool… If we had any for anything.

      • Agreed. This was not worth a post. It is mean-spirited and undignified. Actually, I’ve seen people here banned for less harsh words than the ones I want to use here, so let’s leave it at that.

        • I had to go back and check: Neither Emily nor Sarah criticized the post or its validity. You wrote “I agree” and then made a comment completely at odds with theirs. Of course it’s worth a post: Emily’s observation, not to mention the others in the thread, prove so. There was nothing whatseover in the post that was mean-spirited, and certainly nothing “undignified.” Moreover, Ethics Quiz’s are desigend to elicit varying responses, which this one did. Again, if you have an actual argument, make it. Saying “I agree” when you don’t, describing the text inaccuarately and hinting at some strong point that you won’t or can’t make is unethical commenting technique.

    • Single exception, bin Laden. It’s ok to tell the joke about the bin Laden cocktail (two shots and a splash). 😀

  4. If you devote your research to showing how being obese is nothing to hide from, worry about or accept criticism for, I’m inclined to say that you better make damned sure you don’t drop dead suddenly at the tender age of 42.

    I think there is an ethical duty to not respond in a perfunctory manner. Presumably, none of us have heard of her before, and we have zero firsthand knowledge of her research or lectures. Criticism should be based actual on review of her work, not assumptions based on the tile of her field. To call attention to the irony is facile; it is right there and apparent. The ethical response is to remember that every death is a confluence of genetics, choices, and moral luck, and thus resist overgeneralizing.

  5. What seems relevant is this quote from a different article:

    “She urged a really, really radical acceptance … What Cat taught me, was to separate medical judgement and moral judgement.”

    This suggests to me that Cat Pause understood the health effects of her condition, but that judgment should be looked at separately from any kind of moral judgment. In that regard, we should be past the point of looking at certain afflictions as moral failings.

    Specifically, eating disorders and weight issues are especially problematic. Everyone has to eat. It is not like drinking, smoking, drug use, porn or sex addictions. You can live without those things, but you can’t live without eating. Of course, all addictions are problematic, but eating ones are more difficult to analyze, as they involve choices that are less voluntary. That creates very special problems for people like her because moral judgments can easily intrude upon medical ones.


    • But they are inextricably and legitimately linked, right? Morality, as in societal rules, are based on experience and need. We condemn excess because it destabilizes society. Moral strictures against alcohol abuse, or adultery, or incest, or gluttony, etc,arose because those behaviors made people less healthy, less productive, or society less stable. Her claim was naive as well as ahistorical and illogical.

      • Linked, sure, but not necessarily always to equal degrees.

        I would take issue with your characterization of morality as simply societal rules. Many would look at moral failings as character failings, not just a failure to abide by certain rules. You are not just a rule-breaker; you are a bad person.

        And, yes, her view may be ahistorical, but the historical view may have been the naive view. Historically, we have not understood compulsive behaviors very well. We are much smarter regarding the physical complexities of human physiology.

        But, the point still stands: someone with an unhealthy relationship with food is less blameworthy than someone with a smoking problem or a drinking problem. You don’t need smoke and drink, but you need food; you can’t quit food cold turkey (Mmmmm…cold turkey).

        Add to all that the complexities of human metabolism throw another wrench into things. The body does not like fluctuations. For bodies trained for a food supply as it existed 10,000 years ago, the body fights drastic weight loss. Correcting a weight problem, once it develops is not simply a voluntary task.

        You can perfectly understand the health risks of being fat and still be a good person, even if you are fat.


  6. What university would allow any scholar to claim that obesity is somehow neutral? Sure, some people have health conditions that make weight loss hard, and some medications can cause weight gain. Some people also have slower metabolisms. And yes, there is some stigma towards overweight people as to their intelligence and such. People shouldn’t miss out on a job just because they are fat.

    But I look at obesity like I look at smoking. I’m not going to lecture anyone on it because everyone already knows its bad for you. However, we should all be willing to say some things are objectively bad for you. We don’t have to go after anyone for vices like this, but we still have to be honest. Smoking is bad for you, and being obese is bad for you. I don’t always eat right, and that’s bad for me!

    I feel bad for her, family, friends, colleagues, etc. because she probably used food as a coping mechanism for something else. On a personal level, I would only offer sympathies.

    if we are being brutally objective about the quality of her work and her truthfulness as a scholar, she turned out be a strong point against some of her own research

  7. I was under the impression that body positivity was supposed to focus on being happy and healthy regardless of appearance. That is, you can be comfortable with the status quo, but you probably still want to be healthy, energetic and strong. As long as you’re doing it for yourself, and not to look like how others tell you to look, then you’ll probably build healthy habits. Or you can choose not to put in that effort, just so long as you’re making that decision with your whole self.

    The issue here is the same one I brought up in this post: Stagnation, decadence, dogma, transcendence, et cetera.

    I’m going to reserve judgment on this particular situation until and unless I learn about the specific cause of death, and her experiences that her to specialize in “fat studies”. (Which I’m assuming is a subset of sociology or anthropology. I think all these overly specific specializations might lead people to miss big-picture connections between different contexts, but that’s a topic for another time.)

  8. Without apology, as a nurse who has seen too many obese, young lives gone and listened to hundreds of callers on a suicide prevention crisis line talk about wanting to follow them, I will say “sorry for your loss” to her family and friends, but I remember what it took to get rid of the kid flab and do NOT pass along the wisdom of my bullies::

    :”Wall, hey! If’n you get fat enough you kin have yer own TeeVee sheeo.”

  9. Her name was Caitlin Clare “Cat” Pausé, and she was my friend. She was far more than her physical appearance… She had an exquisite heart full of love, a spirit of joy, and a soul full of light. She was beautiful in every way possible, and she left behind an incredible legacy, just like legends do.

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