When starving a loved one to death is an act of love
We let my grandma starve to death.
It was horrible to watch - hopefully not so horrible for her, as she had bucketloads of morphine to keep her “comfortable”.
She’d had Alzheimer’s for years, and had been in a home for about two of those. Some in the home lived in a happy daze, believing their loved ones were still alive, or maybe that they were really sunning themselves on a beach somewhere rather than sitting in a bland corridor that smelled like vomit and Dettol.
But many of them were so confused it made them sad, or angry. My grandma – Nanacon – was sad and angry by turns. She was desperately unhappy. Gradually she forgot how to eat, so she was fed by a tube.
She lay there, dessicated, drooling slightly. She was mostly unconscious, but sometimes she woke up, cried a little bit, then drifted off again.
It is impossible to untangle the emotions that led to the family deciding to remove the tube that was keeping her alive. Yes, there was selfishness. We could not stand to see her like that anymore. But there was mostly love. We could not stand to see her like that and we understood she would not want to be like that.
Besides, it wasn’t really her, not anymore.
The euthanasia debate keeps rising up, but more so lately it seems, and strongly this month because of the death of Christian Rossiter. Mr Rossiter was a quadriplegic who wanted to die.
He said it not once, but many times. He was pretty specific about it.
Mr Rossiter had asked more than 30 times to be allowed to refuse food. He described his life as a living hell. He finally won the right to stop being kept alive by a tube in his stomach. He died from a chest infection. Five weeks after the court granted his wish.
It’s an important ruling, one that sets a precedent. Now it will be easier for people to refuse food, water and treatment and starve to death. But not to be helped along the way.
Mr Rossiter achieved something important, but it’s not enough.
Hopefully the rest will come – one day the right to die will be enshrined in law. There are many who hope that will happen before it is too late for them, before they are trapped in their own living hell.
Most people will feel nothing but sympathy for Mr Rossiter. Most people have some empathy, most people know what they would do in similar circumstances. Most people feel for the family.
But not the right-to-lifers.
Right To Life Australia used the occasion of Mr Rossiter’s death to put out a press release. Sure, they were “deeply saddened”, and extended their “heartfelt sympathy” to the family. Then they tried to turn him into a victim of the system.
“Christian Rossiter’s death is a gross injustice and it marks a sad day in our history when our society allows Christian and others like him who have severe disabilities to be discarded in such a cruel and inhumane manner,” RTLA president Veronica Andrews said.
As though she hadn’t even taken the time to listen to what he had to say on the television, the radio, in the newspaper.
It’s because of groups like this that our politicians waver when it comes to debating euthanasia, that even makes them reluctant to discuss end-of-life issues.
Because our politicians haven’t had the guts to face this emotive issue and come to the logical, humane conclusion, thousands of people are still and will still go through the sort of hell that Mr Rossiter endured.
Australia has to have this conversation once and for all, and legalise voluntary euthanasia. The failure to do so is condemning countless people to the same hell Mr Rossiter has finally escaped from.
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