Dying with dignity, also known as Euthanasia (a less appealing term), is something we only think about when we are personally touched by the suffering of a loved one. I had never thought too much about it until recently when my mother found herself in the final throws of cancer.
She was brave, facing her failing body with a clear mind till the last breath. Cancer can be a very cruel disease and watching her deterioration made me think about the lack of choice in Australia to ‘die with dignity’. As a personal choice, this has a growing following, largely brought into the Australian public eye in recent years by Andrew Denton. It’s about offering a personal choice around one’s dying to avoid unnecessary pain and suffering. There are staunch believers on both sides of this debate but I wonder if it should be about the very personal choice of the one who is dying?
My mother was ready to die, and she expressed this to us many times. An animal lover herself, she would say, “I would not let an animal suffer like this. Take me to the vet, I am ready to go.”
At first diagnosis, there is always hope and so there should be. Any illness is a journey with hidden jewels. My mother’s choice was the chemo and radiation pathway. We all supported ‘her choice’ in this and many new friendships and meetings during this time were forged between my mother and father and cancer support groups, who helped with the daily travel to the hospital. Sadly though, for her weakened elderly body, the drugs succeeded in intensifying her suffering.
We all came to accept her final bout with cancer would be terminal. The first few months of the decline of her illness were a blessing, giving both mum and the family time to accept and prepare for her passing. We knew she was dying, yet we still laughed and talked while Mum was still well enough to engage with us. She still felt loved and supported at home with her family.
But the last four weeks seemed unnecessarily cruel and drawn out. Her loving family found it heart wrenching to watch her painful decline day after day, leaving her a mere skeleton unable to eat, move or speak more than 2-3 words, yet still conscious enough to suffer both physically, mentally and emotionally, while watching her loved ones looking on, helpless to comfort her.
In the last ten days, we all took turns to join my father by her side, ready to offer any moment of comfort.
In the end, she died alone and conscious late one night after a nurse checked in on her. “Is there anything you need Beryl,” the nurse asked. Mum shook her head softly and when the nurse returned ten minutes later, she was gone.
And, we were left with the question: Was her drawn-out suffering necessary?
Soraya is an author, singer and teacher.