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By Euan Thomson in All Sorts
an argument supporting the right to die with dignity and freedom from pain when the time inevitably comesDYING WELL
Travelling in Europe you are confronted with an awareness of history and the impermanence of
human beings and of human society and civilisations in a way that is less obvious here in our young country. Rome, with the remnants of its once mighty empire, the grandeur of its Christian churches built in some cases with stone stripped from the ancient temples, its multitude of statues depicting the heroes of history, reminds visitors that all too soon we too will become a part of history and very few with any form of monument to record our arrival or departure. Most church-goers would agree that it matters how we live our lives, but does it matter to us how we die?
By the time we are in our 70s, death is no stranger. Sometimes it comes suddenly. It did in the case of my father. At 78 he'd enjoyed a full day and died as he was preparing for bed. It was a shock for all his family and friends, but it leaves a golden memory. Others keep death at arms length for many years as did an aunt who struggled with chronic illness, but lived a full life and died cheerfully in hospital wondering who would be there to greet her on the other side of the Jordan.
Sometimes death can't come quickly enough. It was like that in the case of my partner Malcolm. His death was undignified and awful, the very opposite to the wishes of the person I knew him to be. If he was aware of what was happening he would have hated it. Maybe he was aware? I have missed Malcolm every day for the past five and a half years, but I wouldn't want him resurrected if I knew he had to endure that horrible death a second time. There were times that I wanted to smother him with a pillow and give him peace, but I didn't know how effective that would be or how I would cope with the aftermath, given that I could be had up for murder. I was told his death was inevitable and that no intervention could save him. I had to tell him that he was dying. He was so loved. He had so many visitors in hospital. He lapsed in and out of consciousness. He was on as much medication as was considered necessary, but it was not a peaceful death. I wish that when the end was near, those who loved him could have said our last goodbyes and that he could have been given a suitable substance that would have given him, and us, a peaceful end.
I was with my mother in hospital for much of the last month of her long life. She had had a fall which saw her admitted to hospital and a gradual decline, perhaps acerbated by the drugs she was given for pain relief. In the end, despite my protests, she wanted to die. Her kidneys failed and her muscles began spasming for more than 36 hours. At my request, she was given a medication which she was told would stop the spasms. "She would go to sleep and would not wake up." My sister was with her when she died at 3 am the next day. I believe it would have been good for her and also good for our family had she been administered a drug which gently ended her life in the company of those of us who wanted to be with her at the end.
While I was overseas our Methodist Explorers group discussed the InterChurch Bioethics Council submission to the Justice Select Committee on the End of Life Choice Bill. I totally disagreed with the submission. I wondered whether any of the submitters had experienced dying process of a loved one. I felt that they were justifying an already held position of opposition to assisted dying and that many of their arguments against euthanasia proposed unlikely consequences where people might feel depressed or unwanted and request euthanasia, or that it might legitimise suicide. Such a position echoes those who opposed Homosexual Law Reform or the Gay Marriage Bill, that it would open floodgates of immorality and decadence. Has that been the consequence?
Jesus died an agonising death on a cross. So did the robbers alongside him. According to scripture, their legs were broken to hasten their deaths, but not in the case of Jesus. It is said that after six hours he “gave up the ghost”. Did he lose consciousness or die? Did the Roman soldier take pity on him and thrust his spear into his side to end his suffering? It was a horrible death that we remember every Easter.
I am sure you can tell that I am a passionate supporter of the right to die with dignity and freedom from pain when the time inevitably comes. I would like our government to make this legally possible.