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My mum, Mary, and my aunt, Jeanenne

My mum and my aunt were raised on a dairy farm in Busselton, so they grew to care about the wellbeing of all creatures – great and small.

If one of the animals was suffering, they would make sure it was put out of its misery.

So it seems particularly unfair that they both had to suffer at the end of their lives.

It is like my mum and aunt died twice. They lost their lives when the pain and suffering began, and then they died months later.

My aunt, Jeanenne Griffiths, was quite the character. She was very strong and opinionated. She became a Catholic later in life, but this did not stop her from supporting things like Voluntary Assisted Dying. We have had all kinds of religions in our family – from Jehovah Witness to Catholic and born again Christian – but religion would never stop any of us supporting someone’s right to die if they are in severe pain and have no chance of recovery from a terminal illness. We believe in compassion.

Jeanenne died from cancer about two years ago, when she was 72 years old. She virtually starved to death because she just couldn’t stomach much food in the months before she died.

She spent the last few weeks in hospital and doctors had her on pretty strong painkillers, but you could see on her face that she was in pain right up until the end. She couldn’t do anything, she was never comfortable, she couldn’t eat, she was in a lot of pain and in the final week, she couldn’t talk either. 

My mum, Mary Burns, was her carer before she died. Mum was used to caring for people. She raised six children, and had nursed my dad before he died of emphysema 12 years ago. Mum got sick with leukemia pretty much straight after Jeanenne died. Her physical suffering was not as bad as Jeanenne had endured, but losing her independence made life unbearable for her. 

She was 78 years old when she passed away. I have no doubt both women would have opted for a Voluntary Assisted Death if they had been given the choice.

My wife and I have set up some 'living wills' stating that if the option becomes available, we would like to be assisted to die if we are terminally ill and suffering badly. We also have a 'Do not Resuscitate' order. If we are incapacitated, we do not want to be resuscitated into a life that is not worth living.

We would like to be shown the same respect we give our animals. At present, the law does not allow this. I would like to ask the State’s politicians to think about this when the issue is debated this year.

Terry Burns, March 2019

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