When living is a failure

Cross-posted from Paul Russell’s Blog
An Op-Ed piece appeared today in the Hobart Mercury under the curious title “Don’t let fear rule in euthanasia”. Written by Tasmanian Lawyer and activist, Greg Barns, his basic argument was that those opposing the legislation in Tasmania were working a fear campaign which Barns suggests, should be ignored.
But under the same headline, we could just as easily characterise those supporting the bill as playing with fear.
Because essentially the message of the pro-euthanasia push is based on all sorts of fears. Take for example the story in New South Wales newspapers last week about the suicide death of Aina Ranke who died from taking Nembutal.
Ms Ranke was ill, for certain. She had Motor Neurone Disease – a degenerative illness. But reading the article in the Sydney Morning Herald one could not help but be struck by the reasons she gave for ending her life.
Yes, she did mention that she wasn’t ‘prepared to live like this any more.’ An understandable thought given her condition. She also said that she, ‘wanted her death to mean something.’ The article does not say, as Dr Nitschke confirmed later in a tweet, that Ms Ranke was a ‘euthanasia advocate’.
But she also tells the SMH journalist that she didn’t want to ‘end her life in a nursing home, nor did she want to be a burden on her friends.’ The article added that she had no family to take care of her.
Fear or deteriorating; fear of being in a nursing home, fear of being a burden and with no one to reassure her to the contrary. Very difficult.
But this is really a very real part of the soft-sell for euthanasia support. The subtle and not so subtle message is that we wouldn’t want to be like that either. It plays on people’s natural fear of the unknown towards a decidedly un-natural end. Moreover, if a doctor agrees to help someone die under the Tasmanian bill, he or she will be agreeing that the patient’s life’s not worth living – that their life’s not worth it in THAT state!
Our message is different. We acknowledge that such fears are natural, but that they can be overcome by information, support and the kind of high quality care that we all deserve; that choice will be preserved and enhanced by not going down the legal euthanasia path.
The story of Ms Ranke is interesting for a number of other reasons as well – mostly in what is not being said. Were told that she obtained the ‘peaceful pill’ from overseas. This suggests the possible resourcing through the Exit International advocacy. Strange, to some degree, therefore, that Ms Ranke, should be ‘supported’ the day before she chose to take the poison by two members of the NSW Dignity with Dying organisation. I say, ‘supported’ because the article does not make clear what their role was. Indeed, it may simply have been as ‘friends-at-the-end’. Who knows? But we should know. The strange nature of this story and the twin looming shadows of Exit and DWD need a full explanation – at the very least to protect the vulnerable.
The story tells of a home care nurse finding Ms Ranke unconscious but alive up to two hours after she had taken the poison. One of the DWD people acknowledges that this is a fear – that the person may vomit the substance and not die.
Yet Dr Nitschke markets Nembutal as safe and effective. The Lateline report of a few weeks ago going so far as to say that it is ‘100% effective’, that death comes peacefully ‘within an hour’. Clearly that’s not the case. But I suppose I’ll be accused of fear mongering by saying that.
But it is not fear mongering to stand firm and to advocate on behalf of the vulnerable people in our community. Nor is it fear mongering to use the data from overseas to prove the point. But it is reckless indifference to claim that there are no issues at all with such legislation – that there’s nothing at all to fear.
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  • Shayne

    I feel compelled to comment on Paul Russell’s response to Greg Barnes story. Paul suggests that patients will only want to access medically-assisted dying based simply on fear, however, this is not true. Aina Ranke was already suffering, and had been for some time, and her fear that the suffering would get worse was well founded. Unfortunately many of us know that the end stages of some diseases can be horrendous and we also know that even the best palliative care cannot prevent all suffering. To make a patient endure the dreadful end stages of their disease, against their will, is cruel and inhumane.
    Paul goes on to say that, “fears are natural, but that they can be overcome by
    information, support and the kind of high quality care that we all deserve.” My
    mother was diagnosed with brain cancer last year but she was not afraid because
    she trusted that her doctors, the palliative care team and her family would not
    let her suffer in the end. But she did suffer in the end and like many others
    pleaded for somebody to end her life. Everyone was powerless to fulfill this
    final wish. I believe what will really take the fear away for terminally-ill
    patients, if the Tasmanian Bill is passed, is the peace of mind they will have
    knowing that if things get too unbearable in the end they will have the choice
    of a medically-assisted death. It has been shown overseas, where these laws
    exist, that many patients find resilience knowing that they have a choice and
    it becomes just one option at the end stage of good quality palliative care.

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