Should be a quicker end to terminal illnesses

Flanked by her brothers, her husband and his best mate, and her lifetime girlfriend from kindergarten days, I took the middle left position and firmly grasped the shining handle.

It was unexpectedly light. Cancer can do that. Reduce robustness and strength to brittleness and fragility.

We walked unhurriedly, gently toward her seated 93-year-old mother and two upright flame- haired daughters, and placed her softly on the steel mounts above the grave.

And so it was. A blue sky, light breeze rattling the gum trees in a Victorian country cemetery on a Wednesday in May. Her seven year battle was over.

I write about this because it affected me, just as it has billions of others before. People die. We all know that. But it's the manner of their death that can be troubling.

In the months, weeks and days before my friend's death the lack of dignity and suffering was pretty much stock standard. The doctors and oncologists and nurses explained to the family what they could expect and it basically unfolded that way.

Yet nothing could really prepare her teenage daughters, who virtually never left her side, for the erratic breathing - where 30 seconds or more could go by before the next gulping breath was taken.

If that wasn't enough, worse was to come. Her last two days now had the added trial of deep, resonant rattling due to fluid building up in her lungs.

I'm fairly sure, by this late stage, that she really didn't know or care about this new turn of events. I do know she would not have wanted her girls to go through the extra trauma this caused.

Their final memories of their mother are now imbued with that sound. It is a powerful, lasting vision that will follow them around for the rest of their lives.

I don't know if my friend would have chosen euthanasia if it were an option. We never discussed it and, up until the very end, I don't believe she thought she couldn't beat the cancer. She got seven years - some of it good - after being told three was likely.

What I do know is, if it were me, I'd be lining up for it faster than you can say "Goodnight nurse".

The euthanasia debate in New Zealand certainly has momentum. A survey conducted by Massey University in 2003 showed that 73 per cent supported assisted suicide being legalised if it was performed by a doctor.

Of course, that then raises the ethical issue for some doctors around ending lives and the Hippocratic Oath. However, extending life beyond what is reasonable seems barbaric to me - and I'm sure many, if not most, doctors agree.

Interestingly though, their representatives at the Medical Council do not support it. Neither does Hospice New Zealand. Holding on to power, maybe?

Many argue that pain relief and its management is so good these days that effectively patients are "put to sleep" anyway. This is likely to be a simplistic view. In many instances the suffering for the patient and their families could have been alleviated much earlier, and without the haunting sound effects. Prolonging life is not necessarily a Christian thing to do.

On that score the Anglican Church believes euthanasia has a place in society, and the ever- predictable Catholic Church is against it, arguing that only God can take a human life.

So when a murder occurs I guess God sanctioned it?

This myopic view of human life being so sacred and perfect as to not want to allow them the dignity to alleviate their pain and suffering before a certain death, is at odds with our collective view on animals.

Clearly, going by Catholic logic, animals are somehow so impure and imperfect that it's OK to take their lives when they're suffering.

There have been two attempts to allow for legal euthanasia in New Zealand, and both by New Zealand First. In 1995 Michael Laws put forward the Death with Dignity Bill which failed by 61 to 29 votes.

In 2003, Peter Brown introduced a bill (with the same name) and while much closer at 60 to 57 votes, it also failed.

In 2012, Labour's Maryan Street announced she was submitting a private member's bill to the parliamentary ballot box.

Her End of Life Choices Bill may have been spurred by watching her mother and sister die of terminal illnesses. In an email to the Voluntary Euthanasia Society in September last year she wrote: "I am writing with a sense of deep disappointment to say that I have today withdrawn my EOLC Bill from the ballot.

"That disappointment is tempered by my firm belief that I am doing the best thing for the bill right now.

"Any bill drawn now, will be up for debate in election year. I do not want my bill to be subjected to anything other than proper, sober consideration and I am concerned that heightened sensitivities in election year don't make for the proper progression of my bill, in my view. And the risks of losing it under abnormal conditions (election year) are not risks I want to take with it."

I wish both Maryan Street and her bill all the best for the future.

I wish my dear friend a peaceful, well-earned rest in the red earth of Australia.

Never forgotten.

Taranaki Daily News