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The other side of the dying story


Proponents of assisted suicide have seemingly many stories to tell – via a generally pro-euthanasia media – of horrific suffering and ‘bad’ natural deaths.

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No-one can hear these stories and not be touched deeply.

But as with all things in life, and death, there are two sides to the story.

My mother was 62 when she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood which in my dear mum’s case resulted in cracked vertebrae in her neck, fractures in various parts of her body as well as ugly lumps on her face and in her throat until she died in hospital at the age of 72.

But in those 10 years, between the chemo, radiation and surgeries, she experienced bouts of good health and times of great joy including her youngest daughter’s wedding, the birth of several grandchildren and cheering from the sidelines at sports days, football matches and netball games.

Throughout this time she was cared for tenderly and lovingly by my dad. When the time eventually came when there was nothing more that could be done medically, the family kept vigil by her hospital bedside until she was given enough morphine to enable her to slip away peacefully.

In Mum’s typical pragmatic style, she chose to ‘go’ after we had all gone home and she could have the peace and quiet she so often yearned for when raising five children.

Hospitals are not that well equipped to deal with all the different dimensions of dying, and we were grateful for the palliative care advice provided externally by Daw Park hospice when we were going through this very foreign experience. But that is not an argument for Voluntary Assisted Dying, rather it strengthens the case for improved end of life care.

If Mum had decided towards the end of her terminal illness that she didn’t want to be a ‘burden’ on anyone and didn’t want to endure the pain of the disease and the effects of the treatment, she probably would have qualified for a lethal injection under the VAD scheme in operation in Victoria and now under consideration by the SA Parliament.

But this would have robbed her, and us, of some precious times together as a family and would have had a devastating impact on those of us left behind. You see Mum’s handling of her illness, guided by her faith, was the greatest gift she could have ever given my siblings and I. She never ever complained and always did as much as she possibly could to lead a fulfilling life.

Mum put her trust in the doctors, and prayed a lot, to the point where we never felt there was nothing that could be done to help her. She never thought her future was hopeless or her life not worth living. Her haematologist Dr Green did everything he could to ‘fix her up’, right until the very end.

Even when she couldn’t swallow in the last weeks of her life, Mum stubbornly refused to go to a hospice because that was where people went to die. Every second of her life was something to be cherished and she wasn’t going to give up without a fight.

My mum’s story isn’t anything unusual; I have written hundreds of obituaries for this newspaper in which people tell of the grace and privilege of accompanying someone in their last years, months and days on this earth. Countless stories of people’s courage and determination to keep going against the odds and of finding peace in their final moments.

As highly respected oncologist Prof Ian Olver once said, euthanasia is like “ripping out the last page of a novel”. There are often a lot of “valuable things” that can be written on the last page of a novel, he says, and similarly, people at the last stage of life also have something valuable to offer.

My mum’s final chapter is part of the other side of the story that I hope our politicians will listen to as they consider a piece of legislation which contradicts everything we’ve ever been taught about the sacredness of human life.


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