“I don't want to die alone." Bobbie Carroll isn't scared of death itself. She is more frightened of how she's going to die. The 64-year-old has been close to it before when she spent five days on life support after contracting an infection from a stem cell transplant. “There's no dignity, absolutely no dignity. It's horrific." She's now facing ongoing chemotherapy treatment for terminal blood cancer.
This interview with Bobbie, printed on December 20th in the Herald, sums up the reaction of many New Zealanders who are facing imminent death. I have slowly come to realise that our compassion and expressions of support for people in Bobbie’s situation depend largely on our religious beliefs. I had always imagined that if I were asked to sum up Christian ideals for a non-Christian, I would say ‘love’ was the underpinning creed. But no – I now realise that for many zealots, love and compassion have nothing to do with their interpretation of their faith. Now I have a glimpse of the thoughts behind the torturers of the medieval inquisition, and it is incredibly sad to discover that fanaticism is alive and flourishing across the centuries.
For most people the agonies often experienced in that last days of our lives, are something to be avoided, not only because most of us are not masochists but also because we don’t want to force our loved ones to watch our suffering. The Palliative Care Outcomes Collaboration Report 2016 confirms that the percentage of patients experiencing severe pain can be as high as 10.3% in the unstable phase of their illness. Even for patients in the terminal phase of their terminal illness (usually the last two days of life), 3.6% have severe pain, 3% have severe psychological distress and 6.5% have other severe physical symptoms. And yet, when you drill down into the often hidden thoughts of some of our leading anti-choice spokesmen, they claim that suffering is an enlightening experience, one that brings them and their families closer to their God.
Will they cry out at the end to ask why their God has forsaken them? Or will they come to share Bobbie’s call for a change in the law? Bobbie Carroll says the End of Life Choice Bill, which has passed its first reading in Parliament, must become law and believes that the choice of euthanasia is New Zealand’s last, big human rights issues that must be addressed. Bobbie, you’ve hit the nail on the head.