We're all going to die.

Each and every one of us knows that. What we don't know is how we're going to die.

For the lucky ones among us, it's at home, peacefully and painlessly, surrounded by those who love us.

We'll have been given enough time to come to terms with our impending demise and we'll have had the opportunity to sort out our affairs and be involved in our lives right to the end.

Advertisement

My dad died too young. Going by the national average, he should have had 79 years with us. Instead, he was gone at 60 and it's hard not to feel you've been cheated.

The only good thing about his death was that he died at home, thanks to the care of family, friends and health professionals, and he died without fear, thanks to his strong faith. For that, I'm grateful.

It could have been worse. He could have died suddenly, without having the chance to give his family the special messages that will always mean so much. And he could have died without dignity, which would have been dreadful — for him and for us.

I am full of admiration for Lecretia Seales, the lawyer who spent the last months of her life fighting for the right for doctors to help her die without fear of prosecution.

Seales was diagnosed with aggressive brain cancer four years ago, a disease that was slowly and steadily robbing her of movement and sight.

She wasn't afraid of dying. What she was fearful of was losing her remaining physical and mental abilities. And I can understand that. When you have lived a wonderful life, when you have loved and been loved, when you have come to terms with the fact that you are dying and there will be no last-minute, Hollywood-style miracle, why shouldn't you be able to go on your own terms?

We spend billions fighting cancer and other terminal diseases. Some of the brightest minds in the world are engaged, right now, in pitched battles with various forms of cancer, heart disease and brain disorders.

When we are told that we have a potentially fatal illness, we're told to fight and to believe that we can beat this disease.

And yet, at the last minute, when the best efforts of specialist doctors and natural health practitioners and prayer groups and whoever else has been recruited into the battle, have failed, we are told to surrender to death and let it take us as it will.

Why give up then? Why not continue fighting death — and refuse to let the disease decide when we go?

If we fought to the end, we — not the disease — would choose our time and place of dying.

Those opposed to the right of the terminally ill to die say that learning to depend on others, letting people who love you care for you in your final hours, is an act of grace. It is certainly much easier to give than to receive — I would far rather be the nurturer than the nurturee.

But I don't need my husband and child to tend to my basic physical needs, long after my mind and spirit have gone, to know that I am loved.

And if it's supposed to be a lesson in humility, it's one that's come a little bit late if the lesson is delivered on your deathbed.

For those who believe that God would disapprove and that He should be the one who decides when we go, not us, that's fine. You follow your beliefs and leave it up to Him.

But surely that doesn't mean the rest of us should follow suit.

I accept there is a real and genuine concern that allowing intelligent, resolute people to decide their time and place of death will open the floodgates and that intelligent, resolute and utterly unscrupulous people will use the right to die to get rid of inconvenient and bothersome members of the family who are hanging around, robbing the fit and healthy of their inheritance or their independent lifestyles.

And I do accept that often when laws are changed, there are unintended consequences. Look at the lowering of the age at which young people can buy liquor. That law change was logical, sensible — and a complete nightmare for police, hospitals and youth workers.

But if the law doesn't change, if Lecretia Seales' fight has been for nought, then people will continue to take their own lives when they feel they have no other option. Others will continue to help a person begging them for relief. And they will continue to risk a prison term for committing the ultimate kindness.

If you believe life is sacred as long as you have breath in your body, I accept that. But as far as I'm concerned, my life is over when I no longer have the ability to appreciate life around me.

Once I've lost joy and wonder in the world, then I want to be able to quit my place and make room for someone else. And surely that's my right to decide.


Debate on this article is now closed.