The first individual is a 59-year-old man. He had a wife of 38 years, survived by his children and his wife, with whom he shared close and loving relationships. He had no mental health documented, a medical history of metastatic colorectal carcinoma, multiple confirmed colorectal and liver metastases.
About two years before his death he underwent a liver resection for confirmed liver metastases and was subsequently treated with chemotherapy. He underwent 22 cycles of treatment, and unfortunately a CT scan performed not long before his death showed evidence of progressive disease with a new liver lesion, which resulted in the cessation of his trial treatment.
His GP informed the court that the cancer had now spread to his liver and his prognosis was not good. He was admitted to hospital with a fever, dry cough, ultimately he wished to go home. He would inform his son and family members he would rather take his life than live a life dying in a bed.
He was well aware of his suffering and what was ahead of him. So he would rather die than stay in a ward. Ultimately he was observed by a motorist on a major freeway in Victoria hanging from a bridge.
A note indicated his intention to take his own life.
Another case I have seen was an 82-year-old lady. She lived on her own and was survived by her children, again with whom she shared a loving lifelong relationship. Her documented medical history: hypertension, insomnia, arthritis, gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, gout and on and on and on it goes. She was feeling very poorly about it and depressed about her lot.
Her vision was nearly gone. Her love of reading books, her quality of life was greatly diminished. She was described by her doctor as lonely, isolated, frustrated, impatient. Her daughter was informed by a neighbour who had told her she could not read anymore. It was the most important part of her life.
She also informed her on a number of occasions she wanted to die. She was found on the couch in her lounge room. This 82-year-old lady had a stained towel wrapped around her left hand. There was a knife on the floor in front of her, an open wound on her left wrist.
There was a white-handled knife that measured 14 centimetres on the floor beside her. In the bathroom was found two pairs of scissors, and another white-handled serrated knife, about 30 to 40 centimetres in length, was located on a table. There were traces of dried blood on all of these items.
She died of exsanguination – she bled to death.
Another, 89-year-old. Again, a man. He lived with his wife of 61 years and enjoyed a long and loving relationship with his family. He had a very lengthy medical history – no hint of mental illness.
His son stated his dad’s lucidity, memory and eyesight were failing. He could not listen to music, watch TV or read, which he was known to enjoy.
He ended up alone, grinding various tablets with either a mortar and pestle or food processor and died of drug toxicity.
Another, 75-year-old. He lived with his wife, with whom he maintained a good relationship despite their divorce. He is survived by his daughters, with whom he shared close, loving relationships. He had no documented mental health history, and again a very long, complex medical history.
Not long before his death, some years, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, treated – radical treatments – sadly without improvement and increasing pain with poor prognosis. He expressed to others his belief that his life would be so much easier if someone could help him die. He could not face his lot.
He ultimately obtained a firearm which he discharged by holding the tip of the barrel against his chest and reaching for the trigger.
He was found by family.
Finally, a 90-year-old man, survived by his family, again with whom he shared close, loving relationships. He was described as a delightful gentleman. He was extremely fit for his age and a proficient iPad user. He had no documented mental health history. A very lengthy history included back pain, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asbestos exposure and the like.
Not long before his death he was diagnosed with a solitary brain metastasis in a setting of metastatic melanoma. He expressed his wishes very clearly to his treating clinicians; he did not wish to have any invasive procedure done. His main priority was quality of life.
In the final four weeks of his life, his doctor explained, he remained frail. He had lost approximately 6 kilograms in the previous four weeks. He had a poor appetite. He looked malnourished and had nausea. His family stated that from about mid-December 2014 his wellbeing deteriorated.
He felt generally unwell. He was dehydrated and had diarrhoea. He was vomiting uncontrollably. He had fevers. He was wobbly on his feet, even with the assistance of walking aids. He was diagnosed with likely viral gastroenteritis and was commenced on IV fluids for rehydration therapy. He improved as a result of the rehydration therapy markedly and was discharged home to the care of his grandson in January this year.
The family explained that when he learnt of his cancer he went downhill emotionally. He was depressed and angry that there was no cure. He often told his family he would rather do something to end it straightaway and that if he could no longer drive, he might as well be dead. He mentioned a nail gun.
He was subsequently found dying with nail gun wounds to his head and to his chest. He died ultimately from the injuries sustained from the nail gun.
Coroner John Olle, first published in The Damage Done, August 2016
I am a 60-year-old woman who has been diagnosed with primary peritoneal cancer, Stage IV, which is a terminal illness. I have for many years believed that clear-thinking adults who are terminally ill should be legally allowed to have the help of a compassionate doctor and drugs to let them end their lives peacefully and painlessly at the time they want to.
The alternative may be weeks or months of emotional and/or physical pain and anguish. I have had a busy and fruitful life. I have a husband and two sons and the idea of them watching me slowly and painfully waste away and die because there is nothing anyone can do to avert it is emotionally excruciating, almost surreal.
It would give me enormous peace of mind to know I had some control and that I could hopefully spare them and myself a little suffering.
- Leith Richards, first published in The Damage Done, August 2016
I have just turned 41. A pretty big life event for many, but in my case especially. Three years ago I was diagnosed with a glioblastoma multiforme, the most aggressive and invariably fatal form of brain tumour. I have been lucky to make it this far; the median survival time is 17.1 months.
The end is pretty grim when it happens. I will be victim to a creeping paralysis and increasing loss of cognitive function, until I am paralysed and delirious. There will also probably be quite a lot of pain from increased intracranial pressure. I will slip in and out of coma until I die. This process could stretch out for quite some time.
Right now life is certainly worth living. I tire easily and my cognition is not what it was, but I can enjoy life. But there is going to come a time when I am going to be paralysed and suffering and the last images my friends and family will have of me will be that, as I slowly waste away until, at last, I die.
By the stage that life is no longer worth living I will be effectively unable to do anything about it. And I most certainly could not ask anyone to assist me or I would leave them open to criminal charges. I would ask you why?
Why should any human be sentenced to such a horrible ending? Why should my friends and family go through that? And why should I? When my beloved whippet was in horrible pain due to a rare medical condition with no cure or pain relief we had the option to put her out of her misery. Why do pets get more consideration than humans?
As someone who has had their life cut in half, I beg you to do all you can to change the laws to allow me, and others like me, to die with dignity.
- Lachlan Smith, first published in The Damage Done, August 2016
My sister was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 25. By 39 she had died of secondary cancer undetected but assumed to be numerous small tumours throughout her abdomen. She exhibited ‘ascites’, the build-up of fluid between the organs in her body that could only be drained at a rate of 2 litres per week to avoid her body going into shock.
Needless to say the fluid built up faster than it could be drained. The ascites was literally crushing her organs. She blew up like a full-term pregnancy. She suffered vomiting and difficulty breathing, apart from the obvious discomfort of suddenly being in the later stages of pregnancy. Her doctor could find no chemotherapy that would make any creditable difference to her state.
She was dying. At first she refused drug treatment to ease her pain. I advised her that it would be impossible for her to be administered a lethal dose if she refused all drugs and suggested she just keep asking for more pain relief. Her new doctor, a good Catholic, believed that ‘nature should take its course’. I challenged him as to why she was being administered saline via a drip if her issue was fluid retention. The next day the drip was gone.
She hung on for eight weeks. Every time she awoke from the drugs her eyes would cast around the room and she would breathe a heavy sigh, realising she was still alive. When nurses asked would she like anything, she replied, ‘A lethal dose?’
It was akin to torture, her being kept alive. She wanted to die. She was declared incurable. Her life was pointless. She had said all of her goodbyes. Nothing could be done but she was left to suffer in the name of good medicine. She and I have always been firm supporters of euthanasia.
- Kerri Laidlaw, first published in The Damage Done, August 2016
My grandfather was a proud and passionate man who really lived up to his role as the patriarch in our family. In his younger years he’d run marathons for charity, and once he set off with his dog to run the length of the North Island of New Zealand to raise funds for a needy cause. In his later years he did everything he could do to stay fit and active – you’d often find him out playing bowls, having a game of pool, or up early in the morning swimming lengths.
He loved his garden and was forever out pruning his roses and feeding the birds on his lawn. He was wise and loving, he had stories to tell and lessons to teach. My grandfather was also a big advocate for assisted dying. He himself followed cases, attended various court hearings and got involved in supporting people’s personal campaigns for medical support.
He always made it clear that he thought there was a great need for change to the law to allow medical practitioners to be able to provide support, and if need be medication, to help people who were suffering to die a good death.
My grandfather was diagnosed with cancer during his 70s, and while he fought it off for a few years, he was eventually given a diagnosis of terminal cancer. So, as the cancer took its usual toll of damage and destruction, his life became increasingly unbearable. He was in incredible pain, had become incontinent, lost his appetite and could often barely eat.
He was unable to do any of the things that he loved and valued in life and began struggling to stay awake or hold a conversation for any great length of time. He documented his failing health – ‘very hard to get up, hard to swallow, breathlessness, weak’. And later his wife would share with the police investigating that matter that he’d said ‘life is hell’, ‘this isn’t living’ and he was in total despair due to his increasing state of infirmity.
One Friday night, when he could take it no more, he ended his life. We didn’t know his plans, nobody did. Yet no-one was particularly surprised by it either. One of his sons was a GP, and as such my grandfather had to be very careful not to implicate him in any of his actions.
He decided not to stockpile any medication of any sort, or try and get hold of a barbiturate that might potentially implicate his son. So instead he was left with a much more horrific means of dying if he was to do so at a time and way of his own choosing: he cut an artery in his leg with a serrated kitchen knife.
He did it on a Friday evening so no-one would be interrupted from work the next day. He did it quietly, he did it totally alone, in his room with his foot in a bucket and a black plastic rubbish bag wrapped around it so as not to make a mess. And as he cut deep into an artery, and his life slowly bled out of him, I dread to consider the thoughts that ran through his head, the loneliness he must have felt, the emotions – perhaps of relief, perhaps of panic, perhaps of fear, undoubtedly of pain.
His wife found him the next morning; she’d been asleep in the room next door. He’d left a note: ‘I love you all more than words can say, look after one another’.
As a family we all feel incredibly frustrated that the current law dictated that he couldn’t have had the support he needed to do this in a different way. And even more so, frustrated by the fact that a law meant he didn’t have his loved ones by his side and showing all the love and support we feel for him in his final moments.
We are happy he found a release from his pain and suffering. What frustrates us is that he had to be secretive, do this by himself and in such a way as he did.
- Jess Cushing, first published in The Damage Done, August 2016
On too many occasions as a Division One Registered Nurse off duty, and on duty, I have been overcome with inner distress over the prolonged inhumane, unrelieved suffering, particularly of the incurable patients known to be terminally ill and in their final stages of life.
Even more sadly, several of my friends have become such patients. One friend was diagnosed with end stages of asbestosis and was in an acute general hospital for around six weeks then transferred to a nursing home, where he died within weeks. Before he became ill he had much pride in his appearance. For the above period he suffered terribly.
He never got relief from the constant cough that sounded like he was choking, nor relief or way of removing the huge ribbons of yellow-green-brown tenacious mucus accumulating and dripping from his mouth, throat and nose, and was constantly soiling his pyjamas and bedding. He had no energy.
Continuous oxygen via nasal tubes seemed to add discomfort and annoy him with his unbearable, unrelieved, dreadful pain. Loudly he yelled out with the pain, and for staff who rarely responded to him, perhaps knowing they couldn’t help him. After being transferred to the nursing home he continued to thrash around the bed so much that his leg nearest the wall was bleeding from deep abrasions, caused by him desperately and repeatedly hitting it.
He did a lot of screaming out with the pain, and ‘can’t someone help me?’ My asking the staff made little difference. Repeatedly, when he got enough energy, he begged me to try and get the law changed to prevent others like him suffering.
Too often pain breakthrough occurs in the suffering, terminal patients already receiving analgesia. With disbelief I observed the above situations also in acute public and private hospitals, some also under palliative care, and in ‘modern’ aged-care facilities. Each friend had terminal medical conditions and was incurable.
In the care of professional medical staff they felt mostly unheard and that they didn’t matter. Perhaps unsatisfactory responses when begged through tears or pain and desperately calling out, ‘please can’t you do something for my pain?’ or ‘please end my life I can’t bear it anymore’.
Now they are all dead, but I have nightmares about their end of life tragedies.
- Nurse Flora Metcalf, first published in The Damage Done, August 2016
Margaret Maxwell was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1994. She researched the disease and pursued a regime of alternative medicines, hoping to not only cure herself but also provide guidance and inspiration for others. These proved unsuccessful, however, and Margaret underwent a double mastectomy.
In 2002, she was diagnosed with massive tumours and, told she had only months to live, decided to take her own life by ceasing to eat. Margaret’s husband, Alexander, persuaded her to end her starvation, but she made him promise to assist her to end her life if her health did not improve because she was terrified of becoming comatose as a result of a failed suicide attempt. Margaret’s health deteriorated, with frequent bouts of vomiting and coughing, breathlessness and insomnia. Unable to wash, dress or feed herself, she asked Alexander to help her die. He complied.
Alexander Maxwell was convicted of aiding and abetting suicide and received a wholly suspended sentence of 18 months imprisonment.
These are excerpts from the judge’s decision, delivered in the Supreme Court of Victoria.
There can be no doubt that this was a terrible time for you. Not only did you witness your wife’s physical suffering from the ravages of cancer, but also the devastating psychological effect upon her of the failure of the campaign she had waged against that illness. Nonetheless, you persevered.
Having earlier discussed voluntary euthanasia with friends, Margaret had been provided by them with a book entitled Final Exit: The Practicalities of Self-Deliverance and Assisted Suicide for Taken to Court the Dying. The method your wife chose to employ in order to bring about her death is set out in that book. It involved the use of medication to effectively drug the person wishing to commit suicide and the use of an inert gas such as helium.
The utilisation of the medication was to ensure that the ensuing death by asphyxiation was a peaceful one. You told the police that when Margaret read about the technique and realised that she would be incapable of performing the necessary acts alone, she burst into tears and stated that she would have to hold you to your promise to help.
About 1.00 p.m. you carried your wife to your van, laid her on the back seat and set out for the caravan at Phillip Island – the location that she had chosen for her death. You arrived around 3.00 p.m. And carried your wife into the caravan. At her request you crushed the tablets and dissolved them in some water. Margaret drank the mixture and then asked you to put her into bed. You put on a CD which you had both chosen and, having made her comfortable, you sat with her. After a couple of minutes Margaret fell asleep.
She was always terrified that if her attempt to end her life failed, she might be rendered comatose, so she had made you promise to follow the procedures detailed in the book Final Exit. You did so, placing the bag over her head and shoulders, securing it with a piece of sash and introducing the tube into the bag. You turned the helium on slowly and your wife went into a deeper sleep before apparently ceasing to breathe. You left the gas running for some time as she had instructed, before checking her pulse and breathing and ascertaining that she had in fact died.
In the record of interview you told the police: Her very last wish was that she wanted to lay down in nice clean pyjamas in a nice clean bed and cuddle up under the doona. So I did that and I stayed with her for a little while longer and I packed everything away and then the idea was that I would ring the funeral home and they were supposed to ring the doctor that Margaret was under down here and the death certificate would be written and then I could bury her.
Nobody was supposed to know about it and then my idea was that when I got back home and Daniel was finished with his exams, I would write a full report on it and hand it to the senior officer at Kew police station and they could do what they wanted then. It wasn’t going to matter. Daniel would have finished his exams in a couple of weeks and Margaret would be at peace.
I accept that you loved your wife intensely. You were desperately hopeful that a cure for her illness could be found. You have a history of hard work and you have been a good family man. Up until this incident you have lived an unblemished life and there is no reason to believe that you will ever again transgress the law. Further, the trauma of having initially been charged with the murder of your wife, together with the period of 26 days you have spent in custody, have constituted a measure of punishment for you.
- Alexander Maxwell, first published in The Damage Done, August 2016
My husband, Andrew Carswell was an award-winning musician with innovative bands such as Not Drowning, Waving and My Friend The Chocolate Cake.
In 2016, when his liver cancer quickly turned terminal, and with symptoms escalating, he left the home that he shared with me, drove alone to our holiday home, and attempted to take his own life, while he still had the physical capability of doing so. He left a note of apology.
The attempt failed after intervention by the police and Andrew was hospitalised. Because his liver had shrunk almost to nothing, it was unable to tolerate medication that would otherwise alleviate his nausea and make him comfortable. He was forced to confront the lie that with palliative care, there is a ceiling level. It might work for some, but not for everyone.
What followed in the hospital was a two-day farce. The medication wasn’t help his nausea, because his liver wasn’t big enough to process it. Nothing was working. One emergency doctor told me he’d probably done enough damage to kill himself – but somehow hadn’t. Another young doctor wanted me to get him a psychiatrist – he reckoned Andrew could be like this for weeks or months. He also wanted to bring in a plastic surgeon to fix up his wrists. It was such a joke. Another doctor called him oncologist and they decided he’d be dead in 24 hours.’
Andrew didn’t want a funeral, he didn’t want anyone to know he’d died. He said to scatter his ashes around the rose bushes, where he and I sat in the evenings for a drink before dinner. He said not to put anything in the newspaper, but I felt it important to have published, on the obituaries page, the following:
Andrew Ross Carswell, a skilled musician, at times tedious intellectual, much loved friend of many, valued family member, and adored husband to Carolyne, died an unnecessarily protracted, distressing death on Sunday 13 March as a result of the continuing absence of legislation that could have otherwise allowed a man of his integrity experiencing the final stages of liver cancer peaceful, timely access to euthanasia. May he finally be able to enjoy the long sleep he had been anticipating and may the anti-euthanasia lobby collectively experience the tediously prolonged, objectionable demise they are so determined to impose on everyone else.
We knew it was going to be a hideous demise. He was forced to try and kill himself, while he still had the ability to carry it out. You can suddenly become incapacitated and have the last shred of control over this matter taken away from you.
- Carolyne Thompson, first published in The Damage Done, August 2016
My mother, Jan Scott Ryder, was a beautiful woman who adored her family and loved her life. In May 2012, aged 77, Mum was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Initially she spent three weeks in hospital and, with each visit from her doctors, the news got progressively worse.
Mum had an aggressive form of glioblastoma multiforme, and with multiple tumours they could not operate or do radiation therapy for fear of causing severe brain damage. Before leaving hospital Mum asked her neurologist, if he would ‘look after her in the end’ and give her something ‘before it gets ugly’. Of course, he could not make that promise and, in fact, she never saw him again as she was then referred to a community palliative care team.
Mum did not want to enter a hospice and we were happy, and able, to care for her at home, but Mum always had the expectation that her doctors would not let her suffer in the end and that she would have a peaceful death. This is not what happened. Like many people with a terminal illness, Mum’s quality of life deteriorated quickly; however, in the beginning she still managed to get some pleasure in life, even though she rarely left home.
As the months passed Mum lost her ability to walk, she lost words and struggled to communicate, she was unable to write, unable to read, unable to talk on the phone and, towards the end, even listening to the radio or watching TV caused great discomfort. She was sleeping more and more each day and she had headaches and constant nausea.
But even when Mum was bedridden and it took two people to carry her to the toilet, and she couldn’t even wipe herself, she still wanted to live. Each day her condition worsened. We did everything we could to try to keep her comfortable. Every day I would rub her legs and feet because she said it felt like they were already dead.
The anti-nausea medication did little to ease her discomfort and as Mum’s right side became more and more affected she could not even lie in bed peacefully. She was agitated and distressed. Mum started to ask for some form of medication that would just knock her out but nothing the doctors prescribed achieved a peaceful state.
She had had enough. She kept asking, ‘Why are they doing this to me?’ ‘Why are they torturing me?’ “She kept asking, ‘Why are they doing this to me? Why are they torturing me?’ ” By 14 November Mum no longer wanted to eat and each day she asked, ‘When will it end?’ ‘Just give me something to end it’, but I couldn’t. I was so afraid. I
knew the end was near but it was so hard to see my beautiful mum suffer like this. I know if Mum had been able to end her own life at that point she would have but by that stage she was like a rag doll. I felt like I had failed my mum because I had promised her I would be with her to the end and that I would not let her suffer. But that was not possible.
The next day Mum was taken to a private hospital. I am not sure if she even knew what was happening, she couldn’t speak, she just stared. Fortunately the hospital staff allowed us to stay with Mum and we were so grateful for that but we still couldn’t stop a traumatic end.
Right at the beginning of Mum’s illness she had suffered two seizures. The first had led to her diagnosis and the second happened just days after she was originally discharged from hospital. Mum’s greatest fear throughout her illness was that she would suffer another seizure. She had described it as like having a giant slamming back and forth inside your body but fortunately changes to her medication prevented this. That is, until the end.
By the time she was admitted to hospital Mum could no longer swallow, so she was unable to take the anti-seizure medication. On that first night my worst nightmare came true and Mum suffered another seizure. It took nearly an hour and a half to get the seizure under control because the nurses were only authorised to give small doses of medication, 15 minutes apart.
Why weren’t we given the chance to make Mum’s passing a peaceful end? I won’t describe all the other things that Mum had to endure over the next four days but I want to point out that under the current law, medical practitioners can only treat symptoms as they occur. That means a terminally ill patient, like Mum, has to suffer, whether it be nausea, pain, or other symptoms.
Nothing is given in doses high enough to prevent suffering, all for the fear of giving too much and perhaps hastening the death. How can we say we live in a humane society? Nothing could have prevented my mother’s death but doctors could have given her a peaceful end, if only it was legal. Through all that Mum had been through it was only in the last few weeks that she pleaded for someone to end her suffering.
We all let her down and that is a burden I will carry for the rest of my life.
- Shayne Higson, first published in The Damage Done, August 2016
My life partner, Mark Brennan, was born in 1948, and ended his own life on 9 February 2014. After years of being a carer I am confronted by photographs that resurfaced at the celebration of Mark's life (don't dare say the word funeral) and I remember the man I fell in love with. The mad curly hair. The cheeky smile. The songs by the fire. The conversations. The moonlit sailing. The urge to be with him, the urge that turned into an obsession as his health failed. The urge that had me always wanting to get back home to see how he was, the urge that now even now won’t go away. It keeps me in the house. I’m still not able to do the travel that we missed out on. This all sounds very indulgent doesn't it? What I am trying to say is that Mark’s death did not end with Mark’s death, the ripples continue. I am still unable to cope with the way he died. It was our current laws that dictated that he took his life and what happened after.
Mark was born in 1948, in Great Britain, and moved here with his family when he was 11 years of age so his father could take up a position at Sydney University. After training at the Sydney Conservatorium on trumpet as a young teen, with the prospect of a position in the Sydney Symphony, Mark decided he wanted music to be a pleasure, not a career, and went to university to study law. He eventually turned to teacher education, lecturing at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga. He published books pertaining to linguistics and the law, he also ran courses in Judge Education, and was a pioneer in adult literacy courses.
After a series of unfortunate accidents and illnesses over the course of some years In his early 40s, Mark was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) and ankylosing spondylitis. His professional career was cut short, and he moved to Raymond Island in the Gippsland Lakes. He set up a choir on the island; this is where we met and after a few years our relationship began, at the tail end of the 20th century.
Mark set up his own small publishing business, Wind and Water Press. He wrote and published poetry and also edited and published the works of others. As his ability to work complex tasks diminished, he turned to his more creative side and took up bookbinding, making quality art books and journals for writers and artists. He also greatly enjoyed restoring old books. People would bring their most treasured family books for Mark to repair.
I guess people who are not familiar with the intimacies of MS could think that it’s just about people whose legs don’t work anymore. MS is a mystery illness, it manifests differently for everyone. Mark’s walking and balance were affected and were the most obvious symptom. His feet and toes had no feeling, and while he still could walk, he would walk barefoot down the street to our boat and not notice he had taken chunks out of his skin on the rough gravel road. In contrast to his feet, his skin elsewhere became extremely sensitive, making wearing clothes uncomfortable.
Mark experienced shooting pains through the left side of his body. He had spasms that often came at night. He had short sharp pains that would wake him. Pains under the skin that he called snakes and spiders. He had bladder infections. He gradually became incontinent. His bowels stopped working and he relied on fierce medications, which would suddenly send him exploding to the toilet, too bad if you were out and about! Some days his eyes were reluctant to focus.
Mark had been in the care of the same GP for probably about 12 years. Mark’s GP knew he was a voluntary euthanasia advocate. He had always planned to not live forever in a body that did not work. He had an incredible fear of being stuck in a nursing home. He did not want to get to the stage Lawrie Daniel describes — trapped in a body and they would keep him alive. They would have kept him alive for decades.
He had a good relationship with his GP. His GP always knew what Mark’s intentions were at some stage. I always knew what Mark’s intentions were at some stage. I did not know whether he would actually go through with it. It was a surprise but not a surprise. A long-term, longstanding relationship with a GP who knows your intentions and can help you along, and when you get to the point when you can no longer bear living, then perhaps the GP could come along, you could have family with you, and you could go peacefully, with dignity, without violent means and in a loving environment.
By December 2013 he was assessed as high needs which meant if he was admitted to nursing care he would have been in the high care side of the nursing home, and they would have kept him alive against his wishes. The most devastating loss to him was when he began to lose the dexterity of his hands. He never complained about pain but experienced a lot. Towards the end he was unable to sleep in a bed due to the pain and spasms when he lay down. He slept in an electric recliner chair.
During my appearance before the 9 September 2015 Standing Committee on Legal and Social Issues 43, I was asked how things might have resolved in the immediate term around Mark’s death if it had Voluntary Assisted Dying had been legal?
I said that if it had been legal, Mark, quite possibly, could still be alive. But he had gotten to a stage where he was having trouble using his hands, so he was at a stage where perhaps he would not be able to kill himself very soon. If he was able to legally end his life, he may be still alive. If he was able to legally end his life, he could have spent time with his children. He could have spent time with me. I could have been with him.
I was also asked if, ahead of the coroner’s report, did I ever feel at risk during that time I would somehow be seen as being guilty?
In a way, I was lucky. Because we lived on Raymond Island and there was a ferry service — lucky — I went off to the market. Mark said he would not go because it was going to be a hot day, and he did not want to be out in the heat. I said, ‘`I’ll go, I’ll pop over, I’ll get some fruit and vegies and I’ll come straight back’’, so there were people who saw me go to the market. There were people who saw me at the market. The ferry driver saw me go and come back. They knew that I was not there.
The police were very good. They were wonderful, but there were weeks and weeks where I just did not know whether I was going to be implicated. I had fears that there might be a problem. Mark left a note, and he said things in his note like, ‘This is why I had to do it without your assistance’, so he was leaving messages. I am sure he was leaving messages for the police really, not me, but yes, there were times when I worried. That is why he did it when I was not there, because he was protecting me. You see it on the news. People get arrested. If I had been there, I would not have stopped him. But Mark died alone and without a word of goodbye because he had to protect me.
- Terri Eskdale, first published in The Damage Done, August 2016