A chance to talk about as­sisted sui­cide

CityPress - - Voices - He­lena Dolny

Most of us don’t want to think about dy­ing. Or we fan­ta­sise about “slip­ping away qui­etly at home in our sleep” sur­rounded by fam­ily and friends. But in re­al­ity, less than 10% of peo­ple suc­ceed in dy­ing peace­fully at home.

On Au­gust 16, Mario Ori­ani-Am­brosini coura­geously took his own life at home.

Thus he ended his seven­teen-month jour­ney to­wards dy­ing. In April last year, he was di­ag­nosed with stage 4 lung can­cer.

His public en­gage­ment with his dy­ing be­came his fi­nal act of po­lit­i­cal ser­vice to his coun­try – a brave and chal­leng­ing con­tri­bu­tion to a crit­i­cal de­bate: What does it mean to be hu­man in terms of qual­ity of life? And what does it mean to be able to die with dig­nity?

In Fe­bru­ary, he in­tro­duced a bill to Par­lia­ment, The Med­i­cal In­no­va­tion Bill, which in­cluded the pro­posal “to le­galise the use of cannabi­noids for med­i­cal pur­poses”.

Ori­ani-Am­brosini said: “What this pa­per­work stands for is ... that there is no ra­tio­nal ar­gu­ment for con­tin­u­ing to de­prive med­i­cal mar­i­juana to peo­ple like me who need it.”

This is not new knowl­edge. It’s an­cient knowl­edge. Two decades ago, when my late hus­band Joe Slovo was fac­ing his own death from can­cer, he used mar­i­juana. Ori­ani-Am­brosini’s courage is to make this a public is­sue.

Ori­ani-Am­brosini val­ued au­ton­omy and con­scious­ness; those were cor­ner­stones of what he con­sid­ered qual­ity of life for him­self. The pro­gres­sion of his ill­ness steadily eroded this qual­ity. In his par­lia­men­tary trib­ute, Man­go­suthu Buthelezi de­scribed how Ori­ani-Am­brosini had lost “his lungs, his mo­bil­ity and his eye­sight”.

He was not able to eat and was de­pen­dent on an oxy­gen ma­chine.

What Ori­ani-Am­brosini still had was his mind. He val­ued his con­scious­ness and had spo­ken in Par­lia­ment about not us­ing mor­phine be­cause of its mind-dulling ef­fects. In full con­scious­ness, he de­cided to has­ten his im­mi­nent death and ter­mi­nated his life. I am an­gry that Ori­ani-Am­brosini had to end his life.

I am an­gry that Craig Schonevo­gel first failed to com­mit sui­cide; and sec­ond time round, alone in his room, care­ful not to in­crim­i­nate his loved ones, he swal­lowed al­most four dozen sleep­ing pills, pulled a plas­tic bag over his head, and tied it around his neck.

I sin­cerely hope he suf­fo­cated when deeply asleep. It doesn’t have to be this way. I am an­gry and I also ad­mire their courage to bring their per­sonal tragedy to public at­ten­tion.

Peo­ple should not fear abuse of the pol­icy of as­sisted dy­ing. In all the coun­tries where this pol­icy is in place, there are strin­gent over­sight mea­sures. In Ore­gon in the US, where the law per­mit­ting as­sisted dy­ing has been in place since Novem­ber 1994, the ev­i­dence is that the op­tion of le­gal as­sisted sui­cide of­fers peo­ple peace of mind – and that for ev­ery 100 ter­mi­nally ill peo­ple who gain ap­proval, only a hand­ful ac­tu­ally use the op­tion.

Par­lia­ment has been quiet on the pos­si­bil­i­ties of having ac­cess to med­i­cal mar­i­juana and the choice to die peace­fully. It is time for us to de­bate them. Am­brosini has given us this op­por­tu­nity.

PHOTO: GALLO IMAGES

BROTH­ERS IN ARMS Joe Slovo marches with Wal­ter Sisulu at the Robben Is­land Re­union Con­fer­ence, Cape Town, in 1995. Two decades ago, when Slovo was dy­ing of can­cer, he used mar­i­juana to ease the pain

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