Euthanasia Discussion For The Terminally ill
I decided to follow up my previous post on “Anxiety,Depression, Suicide and the view from my place” with this subject. All of these issues share a common thread that most terminally ill patients would have experienced or considered at one time or another. Indeed most healthy people I know, including myself prior to diagnosis have a personal opinion about euthanasia in regard to their own situation, if and when personal health deteriorates at some time in our futures.
Recently I spent almost four months at Maroochydore on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland Australia. I was there for radiation therapy for prostate cancer as well as advanced skin cancer on my nose. It became a habit for me to walk daily down through the town and through a beautiful park area called Cotton Tree Park and then down to the beach for a swim. Here I found myself one day, stopped next to one of the cotton trees admiring some pelicans at the water’s edge when I glanced down and saw a small plaque at the base of the tree.
The plaque was a dedication to Bob Dent who lived his life on the Sunshine Coast. Bob was the first person in Australia to have legally ended his life by euthanasia in the Northern Territory in 1996. Over the past few months I have thought about that plaque and the man who made that decision all those years ago which helped me decide to do this article. I then discovered much more about the circumstances of Bob Dent as follows.
Apart from being the first person in Australia to be legally euthanised he was also the first person in the world to end his life by legal euthanasia and he chose the date of 22nd September 1996 which happens to be my birthday. Bob was also battling late stage advanced prostate cancer and was under 24 hour nursing care. Two more terminally ill patients would take advantage of this law before the federal government passed laws to rescind the Northern Territory Euthanasia Act in 1997.
Voluntary euthanasia is where the patient has consented to die with assistance, usually from a doctor. This is legal, under certain conditions, in the Benelux countries (The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg) although only The Netherlands has had much publicity. Assisted suicide, which can be seen as a form of euthanasia, is also legal in Switzerland; it has been legal for many years, but only became well known for the practice when people started travelling from other countries to end their lives at a special clinic in Zürich. Certain US states have also voted to allow assisted dying, again under specific conditions. At present the only states are Oregon, Montana and Washington. But it’s under discussion in other states, and in fact several other countries, including the UK, are now debating the idea of a change in the law, so the list of countries that allow euthanasia may well be longer in a few years’ time.
the negative consequences of not legalizing euthanasia are very real and cannot be ignored. Some patients cannot bear the indignity that comes with the loss of control, the wasting and the excruciating agony that accompanies terminal illness. They may attempt to terminate their suffering by ending their lives themselves and fail in the process, bringing further suffering on themselves and those around them. These patients may also ask for the help of loved ones not trained in medicine in their suicide attempt.
Everyone has a right to life and most seek for a “good death.” Surely terminally ill patients should have a right to die with dignity and without pain at the time of their own choosing. It is easy for society, the government, and people to deny them this one act of mercy by spouting “moral”, “ethical” and religious tenets by the dozen. They have not traveled in their shoes.
I would like to end this article with final words by Bob Dent in a letter to the federal government. It is in the form of a quote of the last few paragraphs.
“The Church and state must remain separate. What right has anyone, because of their own religious faith (to which I don’t subscribe), to demand that I behave according to their rules until some omniscient doctor decides that I must have had enough and goes ahead and increases my morphine until I die?
If you disagree with voluntary euthanasia, then don’t use it, but don’t deny me the right to use it if and when I want to.
I am immensely grateful that I have had the opportunity to use the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act to ask my doctor Philip Nitschke to assist me to end this interminable suffering and to end my life in a dignified and compassionate manner.
I did want to write this statement in my own hand, but the weakened state of my body makes this impossible. It has been dictated by me and written down for me by my wife. “
21 September 1996″
Lee aka Popeye