Dying on his own terms, with his soulmate by his side, is all terminally ill John Titchener wants.

As aggressive prostate cancer spreads to his lymph nodes the Hamilton man is spending his last days campaigning for voluntary euthanasia. He passionately believes that other people should not have the right to decide how others should die.

"I can understand people believing there's some value in suffering," Titchener told the Herald.

"They are welcome to suffer as much as they like. But they don't have the right to tell me I must suffer solely because of their beliefs.


"I'm not afraid of death, I'm afraid of suffering, I'm afraid of suffocating, I'm afraid of extreme pain."

John Titchener and his wife Eleanor Schlee. Photo / Alan Gibson
John Titchener and his wife Eleanor Schlee. Photo / Alan Gibson

ACT leader David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill on voluntary euthanasia will be debated after the election. It will be decided by a conscience vote - meaning MPs would vote individually, rather than along party lines.

Titchener, 76, was diagnosed with cancer two years ago. Without treatment his doctor didn't think he would live past Christmas 2015.

He also has heart issues and a permanent infection in his hip.

In Titchener's submission to the Health Select Committee he wrote about how seeing his mum die in excruciating pain from heart issues in 1981 woke him up to how bad pain can be.

But it was only when he saw Lesley Martin, a voluntary euthanasia campaigner jailed for the attempted murder of her terminally-ill mother, speak in the late 1990s that he started to clearly form his beliefs.

His deepest wish was that he would be able to die with his "soulmate" Eleanor Schlee by his side. They have been married for 22 years after falling in love while tramping Lake Waikaremoana.

But currently if he chose to go before his natural time with her by his side she could be charged of "aiding and abetting" his death.


"It's the end of life. It's finished. Ultimately I do have to go on my own. But to have the woman I love there with me would make it so much easier.

"It would make it a good death," Schlee added.

But legalising voluntary euthanasia could subtly coerce people into dying sooner than they would otherwise want to, a palliative care doctor believes.

Dr Amanda Landers has spent the last decade caring for the dying. She said it would be impossible to be able to distinguish between those who genuinely wanted euthanasia and those who were coerced, as it could be subtle and complex.

In her experience she found many of her patients started out wanting euthanasia as an option.

"But the closer they get to death the more they change their mind," Landers said.

She said the most common reason people chose euthanasia was because they felt like a burden.

"The elderly would feel like a burden and be coerced, and it'd be very hard to know what that coercion actually looks like.

"I think people would eventually feel like it's a duty to die rather than a right."