Monthly Archives

April 2014

'This is the way that I want to die'

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NZ Herald 12 April 2014
There’s no easy way of hearing that you’re going to die.
We all know that death is the inescapable price we pay for having life. But for most of us, the end of our lives is not something we need to contemplate too much. Something, we think, we’ll worry about when we get to be 80, or perhaps 85.
So when the physician tells you news so bad you never really even imagined it, it comes as a shock. In my case, the best guess was that I had six to 12 months.
I had been diagnosed with a rare (about five people in a million) and nasty blood disorder which was severely compromising my heart. Around 90 per cent of those afflicted by amyloidosis are dead within two years of having the disease identified.
I remember vividly the progression of thoughts the moment the doctor had left the hospital room. How glad I was that I had been able to retire early; how much I would miss watching my grandsons grow up and being part of their lives; how fortunate and fulfilling my life had been; and perhaps above all, how enriched I had been by family and friends.

Not dead yet!

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Geez Magazine 4 March 2014
What is it about assisted suicide that curdles my blood?
Could it be that it follows after 20th century sterilizations of people with disabilities in Europe and North America and the various versions of “good death” (mass killings) administered to hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities through the Nazi eugenics program? Or is it Canadian farmer Robert Latimer’s claim to have been acting compassionately when he killed his 12-year-old disabled daughter in 1993 that sticks in my memory?
At first sight, helping someone who because of disability cannot commit any legal deed, including suicide, seems generous and righteous. Yet, it is disability rights activists, many of whom are eligible for assisted suicide under current and proposed legislation, who most vehemently oppose its legalization.
Most people think the eligibility criteria for assisted suicide is terminal illness and constant pain that cannot be relieved, but these are very slippery and difficult concepts. The concept of pain as expanded under permissive assisted-suicide legislation in European countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands includes existential and emotional pain. Broad definitions of terminality and pain include disabilities that do not necessarily prevent people from living full lives.
Mortal life is a terminal illness. Our ability to predict the duration of anyone’s life is notoriously inaccurate. Many disabilities, but not all, result in shortened lifespans. Disabilities such as Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) and multiple sclerosis, which are usually understood to be terminal, can be relatively stable for decades. For more than 60 years I have relied on wheelchairs to get around. In the past 30 years I have learned to live with ever greater and greater disabilities, sometimes called “post-polio syndrome.” I count myself blessed and very fortunate in my life, lived fully.

Euthanasia: Hard cases make bad laws.

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Alex Schadenberg 3 April 2014
The pro-euthanasia lobby often promotes media reports of people facing difficult prognoses who wish to end their lives rather than face inevitable deterioration. Such persons often become, for a short while, celebrities for a macabre cause. The media attention can even become addictive and provide, a distraction from their suffering or a raison d’etre.
But are these stories really a substantive reason for changing the law? I would argue, no.
In a debate in Launceston, Tasmania, a few years back a delightful woman on the other side of the debate told the story of her husband who had motor neurone disease and took his own life rather than face the trajectory of deterioration. She described the understood trajectory of MND in some detail. I imagine that she was describing a worst-case scenario.
One could easily understand the anguish of what her late husband was facing: he was a fascinating person with great achievements. When I met his wife and son I got the sense that he would have been a wonderful person to have met. I imagine the audience that night must have felt the same.
Yet, at the close of the evening when the audience had a chance to speak, a woman rose from the back of the auditorium and said that her husband had recently passed away after suffering with MND. She told the audience that his death was, “nothing like that”, referring, clearly to the earlier description.

Dad’s death brought home the truth about palliative care

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Calgary Herald 3 April 2014
This past week, the House of Commons spent one hour debating a motion that calls for the federal government to work with the provinces to establish a national palliative care and end-of-life strategy.
An entire hour. That’s rather disappointing given the hours dedicated to silly, unconstructive debate over internal government matters such as hirings and firings.
It appears that much of the government comment during the debate was an attempt to disconnect itself from any obligations in developing such a strategy. Fair enough, perhaps, since the feds have already prepared an in-depth parliamentary report (2011) and a major Senate report (2005). There have also been progress reports, fact sheets and $43 million dedicated to palliative care research.
We don’t need more reports or strategies — we just need action.
Taking the federal government out of the equation leaves the provinces to devise palliative care strategies that best suit their individual health networks, facilities and geography. But it can also be problematic.  With no federal incentives for change, the only way to force provincial governments to create palliative care strategies is for people to actively call for their development.
The people who have had to deal with a system that provides little assistance to families of the gravely ill have to speak out for all the families who will soon be in that situation.

Woman, 89, ends life after struggling to cope with modern world

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NZ Herald 7 April 2014
An 89-year-old British woman has killed herself at the Dignitas assisted suicide clinic in Switzerland, in part because she had become fed up with the modern world of emails, TVs, computers and supermarket ready meals.
Speaking in an interview before her death and asking only to be identified as Anne, the former art teacher and Royal Navy engineer said she had had enough of “swimming against the current” of the world.
In her application to Dignitas she reportedly described her life as “full, with so many adventures and tremendous independence”, but had recently found her strength and health fading and feared the prospect of a prolonged period in hospital or a nursing home.
Anne, from Sussex, was neither terminally ill nor seriously handicapped when she died, and beforehand spoke out in favour of people having the right to die in the UK.
She told the Sunday Times: “They say adapt or die. At my age, I feel that I can’t adapt, because the new age is not an age that I grew up to understand. I see everything as cutting corners. All the old-fashioned ways of doing things have gone.”