Julie Barrien has terminal endometrial cancer. She is urging South Australian MPs to continue to show the “great statesmanship” they displayed during the COVID-19 crisis, by legalising voluntary assisted dying.
In her final moments, Julie Barrien would like to make a toast to celebrate her life, surrounded by loved ones.
But instead of champagne, her glass would contain “a peaceful ending brew”.
“Shortly afterwards, I believe I will start to feel sleepy. I do hope someone rescues the glass from my hand and makes me comfortable.”
With these words, Julie is outlining exactly how she would like to die - if voluntary assisted dying laws were in place in South Australia.
The 69 year old has Stage 4 endometrial cancer, with three tumours in her liver.
“If a miracle doesn’t occur,” she says of the chemotherapy and immunotherapy that aim to halt the progression of the disease, “I will die of liver failure”.
“I will be in severe pain and great confusion. I will need palliative care.”
A healthy woman who had been enjoying retirement, Julie said her terminal diagnosis - two weeks before Christmas 2019 - came out of the blue.
“One moment I was fit and healthy, the next I was on a cancer journey,” she said.
“Until then, in many respects, I had been very lucky. Although I never married or had children, in other ways I have been most fortunate. For most of my life, I had interesting work and the chance to make something of myself.
“I was able to buy a house at 28. I have owned more than one, and have never known the pain of being forced to leave rental accommodation. I grew up in the 50s, 60s and 70s, carefree times. Compared to a lot of people, I have been most fortunate.”
Julie is “absolutely terrified” of the suffering she envisages in her future, particularly as she cannot tolerate strong opiate medications.
“Sufferers can linger on in terrible pain, and have all sorts of complications from the cancer and the medications they have to take,” Julie said.
“Even the strongest pain medication cannot necessarily eradicate the agony of terminal cancer. Unfortunately, like a number of people, including my late mother, strong opioid medication makes me nauseous and causes me to vomit.
“I remember the last awful night of my mother’s life, as she died from complications from a blocked bowel. She could only be given a milder opiate and was in great pain. It still caused her to vomit. I tried to hold her frail body upright in my arms, whilst holding a bag to her lips.”
Julie is urging South Australian MPs to continue to show the “great statesmanship” they displayed during the COVID-19 crisis, by legalising voluntary assisted dying.
“South Australia has been the envy of the rest of Australia in containing coronavirus,” she said.
“Therefore I believe our politicians, following the Victorian model, are capable of crafting a bill that provides all the necessary safeguards, while giving people like myself, suffering from a terminal illness, the means to die with dignity.
“Please help me, and so many others like me, to die a peaceful death.”
For her own passing, Julie wants to be at home, in her bed or favourite chair, and to legally avail herself of life-ending medication using the option of voluntary assisted dying.
“My wish for a peaceful end is to have loved ones who wish to be there around me in the final hour,” she said.
“I will either be in bed or in my beloved recliner. We will all have a glass of champagne and, in addition, I will have the drug mixture that I have already prepared.
“We will drink our champagne and talk a little about my life, what I have achieved and my general good fortune.
“I would very much like the choice of this option when things become unbearable. To take a drink and have no more suffering is a magnificent and merciful solution.”
-- Julie Barrien, Victor Harbour, April 2021
More than 80% of us believe terminally ill Australians, no matter their postcode, should have a choice not to suffer at the end of life.
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