“When a person is diagnosed as terminal, they could be in a lot of pain for a big part of their life. They die gradually. It’ll get to a certain point where they can’t do anything, then they realise their life is not worth living.” John tells me, exchanging a meaningful look with his wife of 57 years, Peggy. “Whether you’re young or old – we all have the same feelings.”
I am sitting at the dining table in their comfortable home. Pictorial memoirs of their wonderful life together adorn the walls and tabletops. Peggy and John are high on life, even at the ages of 79 and 80 respectively.
Voluntary Euthanasia (VE) is not about dying. It is not even really about death. It is about choice and the freedom to choose.
Neither Peggy nor John wishes to die but admit that they have discussed their end-of-life plan. Peggy tells me that given the situation if one of them was to fall very sick with no chance of recovery and VE was not legal, then they would take their own lives. “As soon as there is legislation, we would make a decision on that too,” John tells me. “I couldn’t live without Peggy.” He says, squeezing her arm affectionately.
Where there is life, there is death; however many young people tend to think about other things that are more applicable to their life. Relationships, jobs and having fun tend to take the spotlight in a young adult’s life. Issues such as death take a back seat. Shouldn’t this be examined more closely? After all once the elderly pass away, if no young people are willing to take their place in the campaign for VE legislation, then we have a very important issue on our hands.
Education plays a big part in this. 25-year-old Peter of Clarkson, WA feels that education is a vital factor when it comes to VE.
“Young people are probably not aware of VE, or they don’t understand the full implications of it. But we need to make them aware of it and bring it to their attention.” Peter believes that it is an essential step to bring it into schools.
Peter tells me that if the child is concerned about what they learn, they will speak to their parents, and hopefully it will snowball from there.
79-year-old John echoes that optimism and emphasises the importance of education.
“When the kids grow up, they can make up their own minds. If it’s not discussed then they will not be prepared for it. As it’s such an important part of life. Death is inevitable. With enough education, hopefully then will come debate.”
24-year-old boilermaker, Rowan has another idea.
“I would like to see more elderly going into schools talking about what a great life they have and how much they love life.” He suggests. “They should also mention that although they love life at the moment, when their lifestyle is no longer sustainable and they want to go, they should be allowed to make that choice”.
Rowan also believes that it would be beneficial to look at creating posters with images of people on life support, with a line accompanying the image reading: ‘If you were faced with this situation, what would you want to do?’
“Nobody should have to suffer; I wouldn’t want anybody that I love to suffer,” John tells me. After all, it is out of true love and mercy for those you love that we would be faced with this dilemma of assisting a loved one.
There is no other motivation for this. I think more people need to understand that and there would not be as much controversy surrounding the issue of Voluntary Euthanasia.
Rowan justifies his feelings on VE to me, “you would assist someone because you love them so much and you don’t want them to suffer. That’s why the law needs to change. They need to change it so loved ones don’t get implicated in murder charges.”
Many people have been convicted of murder charges because they have aided or assisted a loved one in their end-of-life plan. This is not right.
We need to help give dignity back to those who are suffering in a lifestyle they can’t possibly sustain, John tells me as Peggy nods towards him in agreement.
Rowan looks at me sadly as I ask him a question about his own life choice. “It is not natural to live past your designated time just because science can keep you alive… I don’t want that to happen to me. I want to know that if my body packs up and is ready to move on I want it to be God’s will not man’s.”
Rowan is a firm Christian and has been committed to that faith for the last 16 years of his life. He believes that if your heart ceases to beat, or your body ceases to breathe, then it is your time to go and that medical intervention is playing God. So many people, especially politicians and Right to Life groups seem to have it the other way around. Life at any cost. Well life is not a fickle thing to play around with and should be given the utmost respect. Quality of life is far more important than quantity of years could ever be. Ten years on a respirator is no quality at all.
Rowan believes that children should be taught by their parents that life begins but does end and nobody really knows when their time is up.
This comes back to education. “At least kids know the facts, they may not agree with it – but at least they know about it. It’s the facts that are important. I’m a great believer in education… If they learn it at a younger age, then they will be thinking about it earlier,” John declares.
It is rather curious that after interviewing two men in their mid twenties and a long-term married couple of the ages of 79 and 80; the very same message was communicated by their beliefs. Although 50 odd years separate their lives and they have never met, they still agree on the same issues and feel the same amount of powerlessness towards the lack of legislative freedom.
Voluntary Euthanasia is an issue that affects us all, young or old. Peggy explains it perfectly. We all have the same feelings. We live and breathe just as everybody else and death is a perfectly natural part of life.
“The more VE is discussed the less taboo it will be within your home and your community,” Rowan clarifies. “A time will come where we will need to ask ourselves, ‘what would nanna and pop have wanted? What would my brother have wanted? What would my child have wanted? What do I want for myself?’ These are all very significant questions that one must address at some point in their life. It is far better to address them sooner rather than later.
Peter puts it into proper perspective, “Knowing a loved one’s final plans should be the most important thing and should be on the forefront of your mind. If you know their wishes, then you can respect them in their final moments in the best possible way. You may know them inside and out – but do you know their dying wish?”
Rowan explains that children need to have the frightening and the unknown removed from the stigma that surrounds death. “Take them for a walk through a cemetery and point out that it is not a spooky place but a concrete celebration of someone’s life. Tell them that when someone dies the memory is there in stone and they will never be truly forgotten.”
When this message is echoed throughout the community and the stigma surrounding the issue of VE begins to decrease, it is clear that we are really listening, not just speaking. If more politicians were to do that, the world would be a far kinder place.
Words by Jacqui O’Leary 2010
*Author’s note: At the time of publishing, there was no law to protect those seeking Voluntary Euthanasia in the State of Western Australia. The article tells the stories of those that were interviewed at the time of publication. Before the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act passed in WA in 2019, in 2010, we told these stories.
If you or anyone you know needs help contact:
- Lifeline on 13 11 14
- Women’s Domestic Violence Line on 9223 1188 or 1800 007 339 (country)
- Men’s Domestic Violence Line on 9223 1199 or 1800 000 599
- Crisis Care on 9223 1111
- 1800 Respect on 1800 737 732
- Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
- MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
- Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
- Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36
- Headspace on 1800 650 890