Opinion: Honour the terminally ill with freedom of choice

By Danielle Nicholson

8 comments
Clinton loved fishing, among many other pursuits such as golf and cricket. Clinton passed away from a brain tumour in May 2012.
Clinton loved fishing, among many other pursuits such as golf and cricket. Clinton passed away from a brain tumour in May 2012.

While Lecretia Seales' high court case was going on, I didn't broach the subject with friends, didn't discuss it around the lunch table at work with colleagues. It was just a little too close to home. But it was on my mind a lot and so very much given Lecretia's death just hours after she learned of Justice David Collins' ruling that it was against the law for her to be allowed a doctor's help to die at a time of her choosing.

I've wrestled with the decision to publish this as I'm mindful of not evoking sad memories for people who were close to my late husband Clinton. However, ultimately I think voluntary euthanasia is an issue that must be robustly debated, so this is my take on the right to die debate.

Just over three years ago, on May 7, 2012, Clinton, like Lecretia Seales, died of a brain tumour. Lecretia died aged 42. Clinton was 34.

He left behind me and his daughter.

He left behind parents, a grandmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins, in-laws and a multitude of friends and colleagues.

He left with us memories of his cheeky mannerisms, his willingness to always lend a hand to anyone who needed it, of his love of beer and bourbon, fishing, golf and cricket. He was a doting father who helped Emma catch her first fish off the Whitianga wharf in the February before he died. He helped her to ride her first bike which she got for her third birthday, just two weeks before he died.

What will always bother me - aside from the fact that he was too young to leave - is that Clinton didn't get to die how he wanted to die.

He wanted to be at home, where he was comfortable in his own surroundings. Instead he was in a tired, bland and haunting hospital room in a wing of Waikato Hospital that has since been demolished.

He had seen enough of the decline of his comrades at the brain tumour support group that we attended together to know that he didn't want to travel the path some of them did. And while assisted dying was never an option for Clinton, we had conversations about how he'd like the end to be. He wanted to be at home.

But his last days came quickly. Far quicker and more sudden than any of us could have imagined. There was no time to prepare for his death. I thought his trip to ED would result in getting his morphine dose right before being discharged. I never thought that trip to hospital would be where he would spend his final hours.

When I returned to the hospital just after midnight on the day he would die, having gone home to shower, eat dinner and have a short nap, I had a conversation with Clinton. It would be his last lucid one. He said to me: "I know what's happening now. I know I'm dying. But I don't want to be here. I want to go home".

I pleaded with hospital staff to investigate whether Clinton could be transported home or taken to Hospice, to more homely surroundings. Their advice: to do so would be too much for him. And so, just hours later, Clinton took his last breath in a brown and cream hospital room. He left us at 9.36pm.

But right around the time that Clinton was departing this plane, a nurse bowled into Clinton's room. To this day I don't really know why. Maybe she wanted to say she'd taken over the shift or to ask if we needed anything. Regardless, Clinton's last breaths and the peace that should have prevailed in that time when it felt to me, and no doubt the other family members in the room, like the world had ground to a halt, was so rudely and jarringly interrupted.

How much more peaceful it might have been for all - both Clinton and those who sat with him in his final hours - had he had the chance to die in his time, at his own choosing, in an environment in which he was comfortable and at peace.

I know by speaking out I risk being criticised by many. But I am prepared to deal with that because ultimately I knew how Clinton wanted to pass over and it saddens my heart to this day that he left this earth the way he did.

There are people whose argument against voluntary euthanasia is that life is precious and sacred. I absolutely agree. I've seen first hand how precious it is. I'm grateful every day that I wake up on this Earth with my beautiful family and friends. But if a time comes when illness or disease take over my body and life is but a painful struggle, then I would rather depart quietly and peacefully than continue to suffer.

I will never apologise for wholeheartedly supporting Lecretia's family's passionate request to Parliament to seriously discuss and consider a law change around assisted dying.

As it was Clinton's choice to discontinue chemotherapy and opt for quality over quantity, so too it should have been his choice to make if he had wanted to end his life as he had wished. He may not have chosen voluntary euthanasia, but I know he would have considered it had it been an option. It was a small mercy that his end journey was relatively short and that he didn't have to experience paralysis or a long-term vegetative state.

My hope is that one day soon New Zealand will allow death with dignity, that people like Lecretia and Clinton are empowered with the choice to die how they wish. Hopefully one day, that will be Lecretia's Law.

- Hamilton News

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