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Death, religion and perspectives

This is a very personal piece, but on issues which affect us all.

Today is my 87th birthday and I had a mild stroke, almost exactly 2 years and a day ago (as I write) which has had a continuing impact on my memory.

I am a divorcée with no desire for another partner and my ex-husband’s second wife is caring for him as he suffers dementia.

My former mother-in-law was incredibly stressed when my father-in-law was suffering dementia – like father, like son! I am quite sure that prolonging his life, foreshortened hers!

And, having, late in life, studied law, I am well aware of the extent to which laws are influenced by religious beliefs.

In Australia, choosing to end one’s own life is only allowed to those of right mind who are suffering intense pain and for whom death is imminent anyway! That’s assuming that your State/Territory has already passed legislation!

Is this good enough?

IMHO – NO!!!

We are all taught that – except in war – killing another is wrong and, to be found guilty of doing so, deliberately, is punishable by the laws of the land.

Yet there is no adequate consideration given to the effects on the carers for those suffering from dementia, particularly when the carer and the sufferer share a close relationship.

What we ignore, far too often, is quality of life.

Most people in our society today who are already suffering from dementia, may live for a long time yet, but in doing so, their quality of life is not really good, and that of their most caring relatives is almost certainly worse.

My former husband appears to be unaware of how his behaviour is affecting others. He no longer recognises his 3 children and he accidentally knocks his wife over without being aware of having even touched her.

Constitutionally he is likely to have a good life expectation which is not, clearly, a good prognosis!

Although I am presently clear of dementia, my defective memory is an embarrassment, I only have one eye with an intact retina, my spine is collapsing and  the latter is making it increasingly difficult for me to keep my promise to myself to keep weekly vigil outside Parliament House until the governments (NT and Federal) STOP using and exporting fossil fuels.

If I degenerate so far that I am a burden on my children and others have to care for me, I want to be able to die!

And I know many others share those feelings.

Why do our legislators ignore us?

I have no religious convictions and for me, having no quality of life makes life meaningless!

And I count myself as being currently of sound mind!

 

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18 comments

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  1. Al

    This is a wonderful perspective, about a matter not often talked about. My profound thanks for writing. My mother (who died nearly two years ago, 10 days short of turning 90), had an advanced care directive that specified very clearly that in the event of her suffering a life-threatening condition, there were to be “no heroic measures”: pain relief only and let nature take its course. Her doctor knew this, and so did I and my brother: we had medical power of attorney. About six weeks before she died she had a catastrophic stroke which rendered her completely incompetent: she had to be dressed, fed by hand (which my brother and I did in relays, even in the nursing home); she lost the power of speech, and as far as we could tell, all cognition as well. But she was in fact physically very healthy, and although her mind and function had all gone, she was very much alive.

    In a way this is the worst of all possible worlds. We could do nothing; nature would indeed take its course, but how long? For all we knew she could have gone on like this for years. The doctor – with our approval – stopped her aspirin, in the hope that another stroke would kill her. This may seem a bald and unfeeling way to talk about ones mother, but to see her in the nursing home, unable to communicate, making a strange howling sound, was awful.

    I can’t speak from a religious perspective, but this is an area where the law and humanity don’t quite work together. In my case, I’m simply glad that my mother only lasted six weeks in her ghastly limbo.

    May you be spared from anything similar!

  2. RosemaryJ36

    Thank you, AI!

  3. Keitha Granville

    It is bizarre in our society where the elderly are places in nursing homes where many will be badly treated and fed for the rest of their lives, yet if those same neglected souls were to seek an end to their own lives, by their own hands, it’s illegal.

    We can pay to starve them and we can ignore them, all legal.

    What a strange and unkind world.

    My own mother suffered a stroke at 96, and blissfully slipped away after a few days with peace and dignity, and doctors who cared.

    I can only hope for the same. Perhaps when my turn comes we’ll be afforded the right to choose.

  4. Roswell

    If I am as sharp and sound as you are at 87, Rosemary, then I’d count myself blessed.

    Oh, and happy birthday. ❤️

  5. Anne Naomi Byam

    Thank you Rosemary for your beautifully written article. It touched me greatly as, like Al, my mother had a severe stroke ( while in a nursing home ), and ended up only barely cognisant, unaware of what was going on around her, and relying on my sister ( who had her E P of A ) and myself to help feed her, do her hair, make sure she was comfortable etc when we visited as often as possible. She was unable to converse and only occasionally briefly recognized one of us. The Nursing Home did the best they could but that wasn’t always sufficient ( not their fault however – was much as it is today, staffing problems. ) This went on for 6 years, until the day after her 101st birthday, when she passed away, peacefully.

    I am 81 now, and like most people of my age I have no idea what truly lies ahead. I have several health problems, the most serious of which is lumbar stenosis, and serious lumbar inefficiency ( herniated disks and osteoarthritis ), plus fibromyalgia which causes much more pain all of which is medically managed, so I sometimes sit contemplating what I will do about it all, when I have to, sooner than later. I already have mobility issues, so I find myself thinking in terms of wheel chairs etc. At present my trusty walker which I could not do without, is sufficient.

    I do not want to be a burden on anyone, but have not decided whether it is right or wrong to seek human intervention – at least for me – in the event of this happening. At the same time that I waver, I also totally understand the many people who agree with or want assisted dying. This oscillation on my part has nothing to do with religion or specific beliefs.

    As I am of sound mind, and I do enjoy my life, even though it is cloistered to a large degree ( absolutely my choice ) due to immobility and weakness when fibro hits, I don’t think under these circumstances I could make the choice to end my life if my health deteriorated to the degree where this kind of decision has to be considered. I guess this is because I cannot imagine it – even though we saw Mum go through it all. Perhaps I am being selfish to a degree, but I don’t think there is a presented urgency for anyone to make up their minds about it. Yet maybe there is.

    Your writings here Rosemary, are straight to the point, and are very thought provoking … we all have much to think about on this matter. Thank you.

  6. RosemaryJ36

    Roswell – thanks for the compliment!

    And for the Birthday wishes!

  7. Anthony Judge

    Much appreciated. There is a tragic paradox to our ability to describe and read of the challenge — knowing that there is every chance that one will live it personally in some manner — whilst subscribing to policies and practices which fail to address the ptogressive loss of every shred of dignity. The right to kill others is accorded to government, whilst individuals are systematically deprived of the right to die with dignity. https://bit.ly/3XCRIQ2

  8. GL

    Jim Molan kicked the bucket.

  9. totaram

    GL: Indeed he did. So did George Pell. I praise the cosmos for its munificence. Truly we are blessed.

  10. GL

    totaram: now all we need to cap off a good week is to hear that Scummo carked it after falling off his own ego or the Spud fell into a potato chipping machine.

  11. andy56

    perspective. I see Jim Moylan has died and the obituaries are coming thick and fast . I see he performed many “heroic military” deeds. but this is one line i will remember him by…. “In 2012, the Abbot government appointed Molan as a special envoy for Operation Sovereign Borders, to work out a way of stemming the flow of illegal immigrants. He was credited with being an architect of the Coalition’s “Stop the Boats” border policy and in 2013, co-authored a book, Operation Sovereign Borders.” Jim, you were at the heart of an immoral attack on refugees. I dont forgive or forget. another bastard bites the dust.
    History or you can say our lived experience is that no matter how many good things you do, you go into negative territory when you become an arsehole. You will be remembered for your bastadry. History is no longer written by the winners.

  12. Roswell

    Putin, Trump, Kissinger… add them to the list of “will not be missed.”

  13. Fred

    Rosemary: Hear hear. I’m effectively in the “departure lounge” at a much younger age – your words resonate loudly. What saddens me is that society is prepared to treat its pets better than themselves. Euthanasia when a pet’s life has become untenable is desirable and practiced, but human life is somehow different that it must be cruelly enforced even if the “life liver” wants it ended.

    It is time for legislation to change – we shouldn’t need to go to Switzerland to get the job done.

  14. Canguro

    Fred, I have no idea what you may or may not know about the current state of Voluntary Assisted Dying laws & regs. in Australia, but rest assured that come the day, come the need, you won’t have to choof off to Switzerland to get the job done.

    It’s been a long haul, from the Northern Territory being the first jurisdiction in the world to explicitly legalise euthanasia in 1995, only to have that legislation nullified by Howard’s government a year later, to where we are today, with all states recently assenting to VAD legislation, the ACT intending to introduce legislation also, and the NT, ironically, taking a wait & see approach.

    Not before time. The absurdity of being able to put pets and other animals to sleep when their suffering is incurable but arguing for the prolongation of a human’s just because they’re, well, human, is an utterly wretched obscenity of the sort that humans are only too capable of making, historically tied to the power exerted on decision makers by god-bothering churchy types who weren’t at all concerned about the illogicality of their argument that God was entirely comfortable with a person living with extreme physical, emotional and mental suffering at the end time of their lives and that they should just put up with it, stoically or otherwise, in retention of sanity or driven to madness by the never-ending nightmare they find themselves burdened with, but no, just keep on breathing dear, and know that God loves and cares for you.

    Thankfully, at last, sense has prevailed.

  15. Canguro

    Ironic that just as I posted this reply to Fred I received a message from a friend in Korea informing that her husband of fifty years had recently passed away after losing the battle against oesophagal cancer and its metastasis as a function of a lifetime of smoking. He’d been through all the clinical treatments on offer, chemo & radiotherapy, and with the cancer not in remission had been sent home to continue under palliative care. Both he & his wife were close friends during my three years in Korea; he was agnostic but she was a very committed Christian, a Sunday School teacher, a constant attendee, a person of whom the subject of God was often on her lips.

    Even though Korea has had legally endorsed medically-assisted end of life options available since 2018, I’m certain that she would not have entertained that possibility for her husband. And I’m equally certain that her husband endured far more suffering than he needed to, given the availability of end-of-life options. Strange, at least to this writer’s way of looking at things, that we can countenance such suffering in those whom we profess to love.

  16. Fred

    Canguro: I unfortunately live in NSW. The relevant act is “Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2021”. The long name is: “An Act to provide for, and regulate access to, voluntary assisted dying for persons with a terminal illness; to establish the Voluntary Assisted Dying Board; and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.”

    The key words are “for persons with a terminal illness”. The act does not cover the personal choice of “I’m over it for a variety of reasons that are nobody else’s business” which is a available in Switzerland, unless you can convince the courts that “life” is a “terminal illness”. BTW I know a palliative care nurse and she believes in the cause but is extremely distressed by the gross under-funding of the sector and the number of people that die in extreme pain. Something to look forward to if you get unlucky. As far as I’m aware, the issue of “what do I do if there is no point to my life” is not covered by any Australian legislation – if you know better please provide a link.

  17. Canguro

    Fred, are you familiar with the work and advocacy of Philip Nitschke?

  18. Fred

    Canguro: Yes including exit international. Practical but crass is a large plastic bag and a bottle of nitrogen, which nobody is allowed to touch otherwise deemed to have assisted.

    Switzerland is much nicer/dignified as family can be present and it’s up to the “subject” to switch on the drugs rather than the back alley approach akin to “home abortions”. The Switzerland model should be the bare minimum for our legislation not the “terminally ill” approach.

    What really p…es me off is that politicians think they should control our lives coming or going (ref: abortion laws in the US and lack of voluntary euthanasia laws world-wide) yet they are prepared to send conscripts to war all from the comfort of their home country.

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