John Marks - Put ownership of death into the hands of the dying

  • January 20, 2016

I have lost two wives to cancer.

The mother of my two children died early in 2006 . I remarried again in 2009 to the mother and grandmother of a large second family, but by December 2010 she too was dead from cancer.

I loved them both and watched them die unrecogniseable physically as the strong women and mothers they had been. Both were emaciated, delerious, debilitated and humiliated by the disease that had robbed them of life and dignity. In the final weeks both tried with little success to find ways to disguise the physical ravages which they knew would leave their children and grandchildren with haunted memories.

Both of them, at a point two or three weeks before their inevitable deaths, expressed a desire to exit the world with less discomfort, loss of dignity and without experiencing the fear, confusion, and anonymity of a slow death in front of their loved ones.

I have no doubt that both of them, given the opportunity to die with dignity some weeks before their inevitable exit would have taken it, and would have welcomed the prospect of saying goodbye to their families while coherent and conscious.

Instead they died like animals, sick, confused, wasted and sedated. When I picked up my Sonia to place her on the funeral trolly she weighed less than a medium sized dog. It struck me that had I treated a pet as the system had treated her, I would have been prosecuted for cruelty.

My wives were strong women who relished their matriarchal position in growing families and they lived by example. They liked dressing well, loved looking good and in once case would never be seen without makeup, and the certainly like to control conversation and to counsel their families with their intellect and experience. Neither wanted to die in this humiliating fashion and, most of all, once they had accepted the inevitability of their demise, they both wanted to control the time, nature and evironment of their death. In both cases they would have been appalled to think that even I had to experience the pitiful circumstances which evolved over the final days and hours.

I know both would have endorsed this submission and strongly argued for the sense of ownership and personal power that end-of-life choices would have given them.

On their behalf I appeal to our legislators to make the tough choices, put the right protections in to place to make sure that rights to die are not abused, but most of all to put ownership of death into the hands of the dying.

As a post scrip I wish add that my current mother-in-law is dying of complications of alzheimers disease at the age of 90. She is a charicature of the person she was – a woman who relished her position in society, her place as a strong mother, quality dress and makeup, and her intelligent and loving place in a her family and her community, She has been unable to recognise her love ones for over two years, went through years of panic and pain as her brain disintegrated in her head and today she lies immobile physically and mentally inert as we wait for her to die. Her daugher, my wife, lives with the sad duty of daily visiting this withered shell that was a person she loved. She knows, without a shadow of a doubt that given choice and good advice about her disease her mum would have chosen alternatives many years ago which would have spared herself the panic, confusion and suffering, saved her family the pain, and spared our community of the burden of this questionable extension of her now pathetic existence to satisfy inexplicable laws.