'I'm terminally ill and the debate on euthanasia scares me'

Julie Morgan

It often feels to me that the voices who want physician-assisted dying are given extra amplification by celebrities, and that, because they talk about dying with dignity, they somehow must be right, writes Julie Morgan.

- The Sydney Morning Herald

The doctors have told me I have a few months to live. The cancer that began in my breast four years ago has spread to my spine, ribs, hips and, more significantly, to my lungs. The surgeries, extensive chemotherapy, and radiation that I went through back then, plus the on-going hormone therapy, didn't do the trick.

And so now, in my mid 50's, I'm terminally ill. It often doesn't seem real, yet it is. But there's so much more that I want to do – I am not ready to go!

My story of facing an untimely death has been interwoven with that of my best friend and housemate who, within these same four years, was diagnosed and subsequently died of lung cancer. And no, she wasn't a smoker. As my first illness was coming to an end, her illness began and so I went from being the person who was cared for to being the one who was the primary carer.

There was a week's difference. So the past four years have given me a unique window into the complexity of death and dying, of living and loving, and of holding on and letting go.

The NSW community is about to debate physician-assisted death or voluntary euthanasia. No doubt one of the key ideas will be the notion that we ought to have a "free choice" when it comes to the manner of our death.

This is coupled with the different understandings that people have about what it means to die with dignity. These are vitally important conversations.

However, it often feels to me that the voices who want physician-assisted dying are given extra amplification by celebrities, and that, because they talk about dying with dignity, they somehow must be right. But the past four years have confirmed for me everything that my two ethics degrees have taught me: that human dignity is so inherent that it is expressed even in extreme vulnerability and not just in the good times.

Bringing in legislation that allows a group of experts to determine who can "legally" die, seems a retrograde move. Intellectually, that worries me. And once the legislation has been approved, experience tells us that it is likely to grow exponentially.

I can imagine a time when particularly frail and vulnerable people will succumb to the thought that it might be best for their families and for society in general for them to let go and die – they will agree to something because they think they ought to. That scares me.

Julie Morgan is a lecturer in ethical leadership at Australian Catholic University

Photo: Jose Armao

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I'm terminally ill and the debate on euthanasia scares me

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