Many years ago, my elderly mother died of advanced cardio-respiratory disease in a Tasmanian public hospital. Over a few months, as her disease progressed, she lived independently but quite stoically at home.
Never one to give up, the thought of ‘ending it all’ ran counter to her beliefs and her faith. During her illness, even when the inevitable ‘end of life’ issues were being gently explored with her, she exclaimed candidly that “life was sweet” and every day she had left was important, and we whole-heartedly supported her in that.
Luckily, with the care of an excellent GP, and her family, she did not need to go to hospital until a few days before she died – and she retained the ability to make informed and reliable decisions about her treatments and lifestyle.
Our mother died peacefully surrounded by her family, having always professed a firm faith in God, and secure in her belief that death was not ‘the end’. On a physical level, the excellent medical and nursing care she received in our local hospital made her dying process as comfortable as it could possibly have been, given the severity of her illness.
I can say with certainty that she would not have supported any legislation that allowed someone to end their life voluntarily. Even during some of her most challenging times she actively invested effort to stay alive, and we were lucky to be able to spend that quality time with her.
We have to accept that not everyone sees it that way, and I read with sad resignation of people, who when faced with a terminal illness, seek to end their own life prematurely or to help a loved in that situation to do so.
Perhaps this is due to fear of pain, an absence of any belief system beyond the physical, or not wanting anyone they care for to suffer. It may also be that there is a lack of awareness around other options, i.e. palliative and hospice care that provide holistic management and excellent symptom control.
The currently proposed End-of-Life Choices (Voluntary Assisted Dying) Bill 2020 presents a ‘slippery slope’, along with the hollow assurance that it has ‘safety features’ built into it. The dangers of such a Bill which fundamentally undermines the sanctity of human life and the safety of vulnerable people, may not as yet been fully recognised, even by those who so passionately support it.
Now, more than ever, it is important to spend money on educating the public around the benefits of palliative and hospice care, and the natural dying process. The need for governments to provide these services must be made a priority.