My mum, Pam Parlanti, had lived a very full and active life. She loved the outdoors, and had travelled Europe in connection with her hobby of mineralogy, climbing both up mountains and down mines. On reaching 79 years old, her long term arthritis became much worse, reducing her to being virtually housebound. Although she had her garden, her computer and her family, she began to not enjoy life.
A very candid, open, lucid and intelligent woman, we had discussed at length many issues, especially assisted dying. Mum was furious that, when the time came, her only option was to travel to Switzerland, a journey which already she was physically unable to complete, let alone the cost involved.
At the beginning of 2014, Mum was diagnosed with bowel cancer, and immediately refused anything invasive (her house was already plastered with ‘Do Not Resuscitate notices’). Mum was aware that the cancer was terminal, and even if it could be halted for a while the arthritis was just too painful to endure anymore.
Mum’s GP was fully aware of Mum’s advance decision, and although she pleaded with her GP to give her a fatal injection to end her suffering, especially as she was terminally ill with the cancer, the Doctor, obviously, could not oblige.
As Mum’s situation worsened, she was admitted to a hospice in April 2014. The staff were brilliant, but could not provide a pain free or comfort free environment for her. They did their best, but it didn’t give her the peace she craved.
A strong and independent woman, she certainly resented her total loss of dignity. After 11 days in the hospice, Mum took a bad turn. The increased medication, decided on by Mum and her two sons, put her into a semi-conscious state, aware of her surroundings but unable to communicate. All of us had pleaded for the process to be hastened from the moment Mum arrived in the hospice, but the staff were prevented from helping her by the law as it stands.
I was torn apart when, for the first time in my 54 years, I saw my Mum cry – in frustration that she had to go through this when a simple injection would prevent her suffering, both physical and mental.
For another 11 days Mum deteriorated until she eventually passed away. Although her wish to die was strong, her body hung on for as long as it could. She died very angry, feeling that it was simply unfair that other people should have made her suffer in this way and denied her choice.
Every mentally competent individual should be allowed to choose when and how they depart. I and my brother were also annoyed at her forced unnecessary suffering.
If truth be told, it was clear from the faces of most of the hospice nurses and doctors, if not by their voices, that they were in agreement with assisted dying.
My active involvement with Dignity in Dying will not help my Mum, but I do hope, and believe, that it will help others in the future – those of us who simply want a choice for the manner of our death.
Is that really too much to ask?
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