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