It’s a fine and com­pli­cated line be­tween life and death

Townsville Bulletin - - OPINION -

MY MOTHER would have died two weeks ear­lier if we’d had the poi­sons the Vic­to­rian gov­ern­ment now wants to hand out.

She’d been dy­ing of cancer and had had enough.

But I couldn’t find a doc­tor who’d help mum to kill her­self, so she re­lied on a do- it- your­self cock­tail of drugs.

She said good­bye to Dad and us four kids, took her pills and ... woke up the next morn­ing. It took her two more weeks to die.

But here’s what hap­pened in those two weeks.

Giv­ing in to the rhythm of God’s time — or death’s — I kept vigil with my brother by her bed and spent hours re­flect­ing. I then fi­nally told Mum what I’d not fully con­tem­plated or meant in the rush to help her kill her­self. “I love you,” I said when she briefly woke. “I know,” she said with a squeeze of her hand.

That was the last thing she told me. I will never for­get.

And that is the first rea­son I worry about the gov­ern­ment’s at­tempt to make Vic­to­ria the first state with euthana­sia laws. Such a law would rob us of time. But at first I did not see that. In­stead I cam­paigned for the kind of things the gov­ern­ment now sug­gests: that peo­ple fac­ing death within 12 months be al­lowed to buy drugs to kill them­selves, af­ter prov­ing to two doc­tors they are en­dur­ing a “suf­fer­ing that can­not be re­lieved in a man­ner that is tol­er­a­ble to the per­son”. But then I re­searched how euthana­sia laws had ac­tu­ally worked be­fore. The North­ern Ter­ri­tory briefly had euthana­sia laws and a study in the med­i­cal mag­a­zine Lancet ex­am­ined the seven pa­tients who’d ap­plied there to be killed.

Only two were mar­ried and the lone­li­ness of the oth­ers was clear. None had se­vere pain.

One, Martha Al­fonso- Bowes, killed her­self af­ter telling the me­dia she was “ter­mi­nally ill” and “there is no hope for me now”, but her doc­tor, euthana­sia ad­vo­cate Phillip Nitschke, later con­ceded her “prog­no­sis was good”. She’d be­come es­tranged from her chil­dren. Later an­other Nitschke pa­tient, Lisette Nigot, killed her­self not be­cause she was sick but be­cause “af­ter 80 years of a good life, I have ( had) enough of it”. Euthana­sia had be­come sui­cide.

In fact, The New Eng­land Jour­nal of Medicine stated af­ter sur­vey­ing euthana­sia re­quests in the United States: “The over­rid­ing rea­son for pur­su­ing ( death) seems to be a fear of be­ing a bur­den to oth­ers.”

That is the sec­ond rea­son I am un­easy about Vic­to­ria’s planned euthana­sia laws. They en­cour­age us to of­fer death to peo­ple who may need only love.

I have since seen more peo­ple die — like my fa­ther- in- law, Claude.

Pain re­lief is now so good that Claude’s fi­nal weeks were largely free of pain, which helped to make them some of the most richly lived.

It seemed half of Mel­bourne trooped past his bed to say good­bye. The room was so full of love. Most of my most blessed mem­o­ries of Claude come from that golden time. I’m cry­ing now as I re­mem­ber.

That’s the third rea­son I am un­easy about the Vic­to­rian bill. Why treat life as the en­emy and death the friend, when pain can be stopped?

I know, some peo­ple aren’t so lucky with friends and fam­ily as was Claude. I’ve seen the rel­a­tives of such peo­ple, fid­get­ing and cross, wish­ing the in­con­ve­niently ill would just get them­selves out of the way and hand over the in­her­i­tance. That’s the fourth rea­son I don’t trust euthana­sia. Once this taboo on killing goes, no one is safe.

But my old­est sis­ter died last year from multiple scle­ro­sis, one of the most dis­gust­ing af­flic­tions known to man. She could barely see, barely swal­low, barely even whis­per. Hor­ri­ble, hor­ri­ble, hor­ri­ble.

Some of us reckon she’d have killed her­self if she’d have been al­lowed to and are an­gry she was not given that choice. I’m less sure. Eli­nor fought for life and the last thing I told her was how brave she was. But she was never given the choice of euthana­sia, so we’ll never know.

Yet that’s the rea­son that, de­spite my fears, I can­not damn those who sup­port the An­drews gov­ern­ment’s plan.

Life is too com­pli­cated. Death even more.

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