My mother, Myrtle Tapscott, was the most generous person I have ever known.
She was generous with her time, her love and her joy. Decades ago, when a relative fell apart after her baby was born with a terminal disease, my mum took in the little girl as one of her own. My mum loved her like a daughter, knowing she was not long for this world. The girl died three years later, aged nearly five, and my mum grieved like any mother would. She never let pain stop her from opening her heart. She would give you the shirt off her back.
My mother had multiple health problems throughout life, including a raft of auto-immune diseases, diabetes, arthritis, thyroid issues and kidney disease. A severe stroke left her disabled. But it was the terminal kidney disease that killed her in the end.
The last two months of her life were pure agony. Every time nursing home staff laid her down to change her nappy the fluid in her body that was retained as a consequence of her kidney failure would rise up into her lungs. Staff had to change her fast because she could not breathe at that angle. In the last eight weeks of her life she had to sleep upright in a chair.
Her failing kidneys also caused toxins to seep out of her skin. It swelled her entire body until her ankles were as thick as her thighs and caused an angry, itchy rash which she scratched incessantly. She was always covered in blood and body fluids which oozed from her open sores. In the last few weeks of her life she was bandaged almost like a mummy.
In August 2013 she drowned in her own fluids, just six days shy of her 80th birthday. I know my mother was a big believer in voluntary assisted dying. I can’t say with certainty she would have opted for it herself, but I think it’s likely she would have wanted it in the final three or four days. Even if she had been able to end her life 12 hours earlier, she would have been saved from so much trauma. If you’ve ever seen a dying person in horrific pain, you would know how grateful you are for every hour they don’t have to suffer. Morphine and other painkillers don’t work on everyone, and some people, like myself, are allergic to them.
Politicians don’t have the right to deny a person to die in peace and with dignity. They act like they are protecting us from ourselves, like they are our saviours, but they are not my judge and jury.
I will meet my maker with a clear conscience if I decide to end my life to stop intolerable suffering. We have laws to protect animals from suffering, and we should put them in place for humans. We are not being humane to humans. If politicians are too scared to pass the legislation, they should hold a referendum on the matter. And they should remember that they too may need help themselves one day.
The ethos of keeping people alive at all costs is wrong. I once had an uncle suffering Alzheimer’s Disease who was so sick towards the end of his life he weighed only 45 kilos. He didn’t recognise anyone, had forgotten how to eat and spent his days staring at the ceiling. But nursing home staff kept giving him vitamin pills to keep him going. I asked them why they were prolonging his life. There was no quality of life. There was only suffering.
Kerry Enright, November, 2018