The following are extracts from the diary of 90-year-old Eileen Dawe. She was diagnosed with terminal cancer and wrote of her wishes for a different kind of dying.
Monday, 27th July 2015
My name is Eileen Emma Dawe born on 26/8/1925 nearly ninety years ago. After suffering nearly six weeks of strong pain I was eventually diagnosed as suffering from untreatable terminal cancer. It is my wish to end my life whilst still able bodied and clear minded. I have now received pain management medication for five weeks.
Two weeks would have been sufficient for final goodbyes and an orderly exit. Early August Pain relief helpful. Getting business affairs in order. Phone out of order for eight days. Still considering overseas assistance to Switzerland. Likelihood becoming less of an option.
Tuesday, 25th August
Cancelled bridge due to discomfit and hearing stress. A surprise lunch had been planned for me.
Friday, 28th August
Admission to hospital. It would seem to me my one option out of life is slow starvation, whilst most good folk wish to keep plying me with pain bearing food or wishes for a longer life.
Sunday, 13th September
Completed two weeks of further pain management treatment. An experience that left me astounded at the patience, kindness and caring that nurses, doctors and staff lavished on a terminally ill ninety year old woman whose wish then and now is to depart a long and happy life as soon as possible.
Written after return from hospital ‘I need your simpering smile and a hand to soothe my pain awhile. My country’s laws decree “Death by a thousand cuts for me”. My life flows away like an ebbing tide that takes my courage and humbles my pride. My independence stripped away as I linger on for another day. I have no choice’
Monday, 21st September
I am comfortably starving to death. We tried to find a gentler choice – one that our fellow Australians do not approve of or permit. So I must abide by their wishes.
Friday, 25th September
Over two months of pain relief. Not my choice. Another awakening to a day of medication. The threat of pain hanging over me as I wither away to that shrunken bundle being quietly discussed. My hearing and eyesight, along with comprehension deteriorate. The perplexed eyes of a stranger return my gaze.
First moments awakening bring sadness and dismay with the realisation that my continued existence seems interminable.
Sunday, 27th September
If it is illegal to shorten one’s life by administering drugs, which is it not also illegal to give drugs to a patient to extend their time of dying. Both must be unnatural practice against the laws of nature. Is the desire to end suffering an irreligious act against so-called gods? Is suffering and pain something to be endured to gain access to a so-called afterlife?
Monday, 5th October
Another restless night. 11 weeks since diagnosis. Another day of sad routine. Does it have to be so long?
Friday, 23rd October
Body starting to reject all food and liquid – pain (physical) not evident.
Sunday, 25th October
Another morning as I lapse into all that I did not want to become. Perhaps my sanity next to go. Pain is menacing.
Tuesday, 2nd November
It’s like waiting for a train that never comes in.
Friday, 13th November
Eyesight failing [and] early July my last real meal. Meals are a dry biscuit. Nothing really interests me for future. Sleeping a lot. Mind wanders a lot. I watch my daughter toil and my life slips away. What egotistic monster would subject another human a peaceful departure with friends and loved ones. I fear for those less fortunate than me and still dread what will be my as yet unknown end will be.
Sunday, 29th November
My treatment consists of semi-starvation since release from hospital.
The question I ask [is] why must it go on for so long? I want to die, I am happy to die. Why drag out a long, long, long suicide. Some days I eat a little food – usually gives diarrhoea or lots of frothing from the mouth, slight vomiting. Sometimes very weak as I tire [but] sometimes very energetic.
I love my little garden of plants that give me enjoyment and beauty like the birds beyond. I do hate the long, long farewell. I just do not have the life that was mine anymore.
I am happy to go… Glad did I live and gladly die. I do hate the long, long farewell.
- Eileen E. Dawe, first published in The Damage Done, August 2016
Saturday, 12th December, 2015, Eileen Emma Dawe passed away, aged 91.