I have this terrible fear of spending my last years sitting in a nursing home with my dick hanging out of borrowed pajamas, dribbling studiously at the aquarium as the yellow Hurricane fish play rugby against the blue Waratah fish, waiting for a personal carer to spoon just enough gruel into me to keep me ticking over – not actually living, just breathing.
Our nursing homes are becoming clogged with little old ladies sitting silently in the autumnal sun, smiling secret Mona Lisa smiles as their bladder sphincters relax and the warm glow of urine floods their incontinence pads.
I do my bit by taking a megadose of folate to ward off the spectre of Altzheimers but I want more – I demand the member for Menzies to allow me to exercise the most basic of rights – the right to die.
Of course, because I live in the Territory, I could exercise, for about fourteen months, the right to die. But that was taken away by that paragon of religious virtue, the same Minister for Aging when his private members bill overturned the NT legislation.
Putting aside the unfairness of a representative of another jurisdiction proposing legislation that has nothing to do with him, the Australian health care system is going to grind to a halt because the whole budget will have to be spent keeping brain-dead babyboomers comfortable and comatose in nursing homes across the country.
in 1995-96, the Labor Party, when in government, was spending $2.5 billion, $2,500 million, on aged care. We are currently spending some $4.2 billion, $4,200 million, on aged care
we are on the threshold of one of the most dramatic demographic shifts so far as Australia’s history is concerned. That shift is when the great bulk of the population¢â¬âthe baby boomers¢â¬âbegin to retire in the next few years and become the retired generation of Australians. One can envisage that, in 15 to 20 years,, naturally we will have a much greater older population of Australians.
For a couple of years after we were married, my wife and I stayed with her grandmother. Ahhh, wonderful memories of lazy Sunday mornings in that big double bed… but I digress. Ada was adamantly against her grand-daughters marrying older men. She married Jim, fifteen years her senior, when she was in her teens and spent the first part of her life raising children and sitting around the kitchen and the last fifteen years caring for an embittered old man frustrated by the stroke that left him paralysed. Twenty years after we moved out I visited Ada in Wesley House and was too frightened to answer her plea to assist her find an end to her pain and embarrassment. You see her body had broken down leaving her in constant pain and unable to perform the most basic personal hygiene functions, but her brain was as sharp as ever, she lived in hell.
In 1992 our 15 year old son was diagnosed as suffering from Ewings Sarcoma, an aggressive form of bone cancer. The cancer, originally confined to his rib, invaded his lung, spine, hip and femur. The decision to care for David at home occurred by default. There was nothing more the traditional medical system could do, we would try and care for him in our own way somewhere both we and David felt comfortable, at home. When he came home that last time David continued to refuse acknowledgment of the disease at all. His legs hurt first. Whether it was the cancer or just lack of movement we don’t know. On reflection we didn’t know much about anything. We didn’t discuss the situation with David, if he refused to acknowledge the magnitude of the disease, then so would we. Everybody just got on with the day to day minutiae. Including the GP and the district nurses. The GP didn’t know us very well and so at first seemed reticent about allowing us to treat David unsupervised. The most sensitive aspect was the supply of increasing doses of morphine. We suspect that, because the GP and the district nurses had been told that the patient would probably die in less than ten weeks, they didn’t worry overmuch about developing a medium to long term palliative care strategy.
Death devoured him. Scoured the flesh from his bones and turned him into a smiling skeleton. All the bones jutted out from his body. Where the flesh touched his bed it turned black and died, then rotted into a suppurating sore. First his hip, then his back, then the side of his knees, then his heels and last his shoulder and the back of his head. Most of the time he just lay still, drifting in and out of morphine induced unconsciousness. Except when he was in pain. Then his lips turned back from his teeth and he looked awful. His eyes sunk in their sockets, the intercostal muscles on the right side shrunk and his ribs thrust out from his chest. His lung action was only slight and he had this habit of, while sleeping, to take a deep breath then not breathe again for about
twenty seconds and you never knew when or if he would start breathing again.
On the left side the hole left from the excision of his ribs and lung turned burnt brown from the radiation and the skin flaked off as though it was badly sunburnt. It’s said that the eyes are a window to the soul. David’s eyes remained beautiful limpid pools until the day he died. As he lost weight his face shrunk but his eyes stayed the same and seemed to grow larger. He could express almost anything with his eyes, raise an eyebrow in question, wink wickedly in jest, radiate unlimited love, cry in unimagined agony. I don’t think I will ever see anybody that was as dignified as David. I use the word “dignified” advisedly because I can think of no other that adequately describes the manner in which he dealt with the disease. David died on August 6th, seven months to the day he was given “weeks to live”. Luckily it was a peaceful death, and we were not required to face the momentous decision of whether or not I had the courage to “assist” him.
I insist that I have the right to die. The Act passed in the NT assembly wasn’t about euthanasia as such, it simply legalised the right of an adult to exercise the most basic of rights. During the stem cell debate the clowns in Canberra waffled on about the rights of unborn babies but deny adults similar rights when it comes to choosing the time of their death. They shout about the ‘slippery slope’ but legalising the right to die shouldn’t necessarily lead to the greedy grandson helping granny off quickly so that he can get his hands on her harbourside property.
Last night I picked up an old mate and brought him home to watch the Super 12 game. In his young days Roger was a legend, a real pants man; he lived with the most exotic black woman, traipsed around the world presenting papers to uranium conferences in Paris, meeting mining magnates in Hong Kong and every time he came back from gold prospecting in Indonesia he was loaded with gold jewellery. He played rugby on the wing and won gold medals at the Masters games well into his fifties. Two years ago he had a stroke. Now he’s but a phantom of his former glory. He laments the loss of the way he was and contemplates an existence in a nursing home with horror. What will I do if he asks me to help him die?