Brian Edwards Media

A Comment from Michele, who has Terminal Cancer

The following comment on ‘The Doctor and the Right to Die’ came from Michele. I thought it expressed very well the core issue in the debate over voluntary euthanasia and that it deserved to be on the front page of this site.

I, like Dr Pollock have terminal cancer. Mine is metastatic breast cancer. Some of you might have offered your opinions from a terminal illness perspective, but I feel the majority have not. What most of you do not understand, and unless you are in our position, cannot possibly comprehend, is that what we are fighting for is what everyone wants out of life – to be in control. Which is why, upon adulthood we are trusted to manage our income, our livelihood, our children’s upbringing, chose where we live and what we wear, sometimes well, and sometimes not so well, and why I feel outraged that we are not given the ultimate responsibility, and that is to manage our death as well. Yes, there need to be controls, a doctor and lawyer appointed, but no one should veer from the point that what defines a civilised society is how we treat and help people who are less fortunate. To have a terminal illness, for me, falls in to that category and I applaud Dr Pollock for putting himself in the public arena. I’m sure he would much prefer to be spending all the time he has left, privately, with his loved ones and not feeling that he has to wage such a public fight.


  1. This is a moving example of the way things could be done, a person choosing to die and in control.

    Thank for your post Michele

  2. Thank you Michele and thank you Brian for that important perspective; the most important perspective when discussing this issue.

  3. I just wanted to express my deepest sympathy for you and your loved ones. Thank you for your perspective and insights and I agree that this debate comes down to control.

    Do you think it’s possible that for a person with a terminal illness, deciding on when and how they die is a taking back the control that the disease has excised from them?

  4. Thank you Michele for expressing what we are forced to think about in our situation so eloquently. I (like many of us) have come to terms with the fact we have a terminal disease, but what still terrifies me is the thought of what I might have to go through before the end, and see the pain in my loved ones eyes.
    And yes Tess, in some ways it is us regaining a portion of control back, back from this hideous, uncomprimising fate.

  5. Firstly, for me, voluntary euthanasia is now way beyond an intellectual debate – it should be a life style choice. To Tom Semmens – if when your time comes it proves to be long, lingering and racked with pain – well, that’s fine for you – suffer your pain; but for the majority of us we do not want to be martyrs and would want, when we are of sound mind and able, to plan at what point, enough is enough. The comfort that legal protocol would give me and my family would be immense. My husband would have the emotional torture removed from him of potentially watching me die, inch by inch, because by that point, my spirit would be long gone, and all that he and my family would be comforting would be a shell of skin and bone, and frankly, I feel enraged that my remaining time should be fighting so that others can have a voluntary euthanasia protocol available to them.
    And to Tess – yes – unfortunately cancer as it develops can be slow and insidious and as each week goes by I pass more and more of my responsibilities to my husband. However, my mind is still good and sharp so it is very frustrating that the one thing that would empower me is denied, creating my euthanasia protocol. To anyone wanting more insight in to the life of a cancer person should read “So Much for That” by Lionel Shriver – it is great read but also wholly accurate.

  6. My aunt (who was like another mother to me) died of cancer at the beginning of July. It has really made me focus on death and dying. I’m Catholic and until my aunt died I didn’t realise how many Catholic prayers focused on having a _good_ death and how important that was.

  7. I get very angry at people who bleat on that we can control pain & that we shouldn’t play god. We play god every time that we that we take a Panadol tablet! My husband, dying at 43, had no pain but was almost totally paralysed & incoherent. His mind was as good as ever, we couldn’t understand what he was saying but in his head he was speaking normally. He had NO DIGNITY & didn’t want his children to remember him in that state. Fortunately he didn’t linger for long. No one is advocating forced euthanasia but it is cruel to withhold the choice of a pain & stress free death to those who want to go.

  8. Every time this subject is raised medical professionals (like the NZMA) guy who was interviewed after the Dr Pollock interview talk about the wondrous palliative care that is available. Are they kidding us, or is the pain people report their relatives suffered before death brings relief figments of fevered imagination. Should relatives make formal complaints to the medical association when pain relief is denied or is ineffectual?

  9. The NZMA doctor wants to care, not kill. And I totally agree with him.

    If I am diagnosed with something serious I want to feel that the doctor treating me wants to help me, not offer death to me.

    Third party involvement in death cannot help but lead to abuses. Some people like to have the power of life and death over people and will go too far. Nazi death camps and Harold Shipman are historical examples of this. Google the Belgian experience for a more recent survey of what people will do given the opportunity.

    If people want to end their lives, then lets make barbituates more readily available. Then people can buy them and take them to commit suicide if they wish. But please, no third party involvement and leave doctors out of it.

  10. My very good friend nursed her father through his final few months, and about two years later she confided in me that she helped him to end his life. She had told no one else about this.

    She said the end was messy, the method they had agreed on didn’t work, and she had to resort to a hasty plan that was just too awful to describe here.

    I don’t want to go into detail about what happened, but I know that if voluntary euthanasia had been legal my friend’s father could have died with the dignity he craved. As it is he did not, and the indignity of his death,and her role in it, haunted her.

    The guilt she carried for having “killed her father” (her words), despite it being his wish, was unmanageable for her and she took her own life a few months after confiding in me.

    I believe this tragic set of circumstances could have been avoided if voluntary euthanasia was allowed.

  11. I had no intention of posting again on this site but this morning a number of things make my blood boil! Firstly, the New Zealand care system is second to none. In the five years I’ve been immersed in breast cancer services I have received nothing but great listening, very fast and efficient testing, three surgeries that were available with a two week wait, no delay in the availability of expensive chemotherapy drugs, pain relief immediately available and more importantly, good advice given when that was dispensed, and at no time has any health care professional broached the subject, and quite rightly so, of what I wanted now my illness is terminal.
    However, now that I am at the “coal face” of metastatic cancer, and my faculties are still all intact, I want to discuss with my primary health consultant and my family my wishes for when that might not be so.
    To Lettice who asked if there was something wrong with the dispensing of pain relief – there is nothing wrong with it and to my knowledge palliative care is offered at the highest standard. Maybe some confusion is arising here with the term “pain killers”. For the uninitiated pain killers do kill pain. However, as the dose increases they come with huge side effects. The digestive system shuts down and what goes in, will not come out – do you get my drift? – without yet more drugs and medical intervention. And that is just the start of the complications that occur when the human body can no longer go on, and is slowly shutting down. Who in their right mind want to face that and have their families witness it. It is nothing short of barbaric.
    All Dr Pollock and I are asking for here is choice. For the people who don’t agree with voluntary euthanasia, that’s fine, but for us who want that protocol in place for peace of mind, we should be allowed that last dignity.

  12. Reposted here from the original post on Dr Pollock – references to certain posters are from that thread, but the comments here remain valid.

    All the comments that lean against the legalisation, or the act of voluntary euthansia appear to come from people who are not in this situation. It also intrigues me how we (those of us like Michele and I with a terminal cancer) are referred to as “those people”, or (by Merv), “the so-called terminally ill”, actually that one doesn’t intrigue me it infuriates me, how very dare you!

    Perhaps some of these arrrogant, patronising, comments would change if “you” were actually faced with this degrading way to pass as your future.

    And to those who question where the boundaries will be, and say “it’s a slippery slop” etc, use some common sense, of course a medical professional wouldn’t condone someone who was a paraplegic (as mentioned above), or simply depressed for VE to be an option. We are talking about people who have no hope of a cure, who are in the process of dying, have a terminal illness, and are at the stage where life has become intolerable. If you, like Tom, choose to face your pain and suffering during your passage to death, in order to realise your divinity and experience an epiphany, that’s your choice, and I wish you every best with it.

    When I am bed bound, being kept alive by a ventilator because fluid has collapsed my lungs, being fed by a tube as my organs and intestines haved been ravaged with disease, crying because I have to watch people I love having to change my nappies and wash me, then please allow me the right to go with dignity. I’ll leave the lesson this time thanks Tom.

    As Brian states, the laws have been carefully drafted and work in other countries.

    These countries are clearly far more sophisticated, and empathetic, towards the needs of their society.

  13. The only opinion to be considered here is that of the sufferer and those who have intimately and daily had to share that experience as a loved one. I’m afraid the rest is but noise. In my view a loathesome, despicable and utterly mean noise at that. It is base ignorance.

  14. I do not in any way seek to belittle the suffering or the wishes of Michele and Tania and indeed find it very difficult to say why they should not choose to end their suffering.

    Some time ago Michael Laws introduced a bill into parliament called “Death with Dignity”. Bruce Logan of the NZ Education Development Foundation published an article setting out the arguments against the legislation, far better than I could hope to do. The article is far too long to reproduce but it is worth quoting some key points.

    “No one is an island. No person ever makes a decision to end his or her life in isolation. Others are affected; friends and relatives left behind and the health care staff looking after the patient. Personal autonomy is not absolute.”

    “In every case where euthanasia has been practised voluntary euthanasia has lead to involuntary euthanasia. The Remmelink report (1991) commissioned by the Dutch Ministry of Justice has some bleak evidence for us to consider.” The article cites some specific examples of abuse.

    “Allowing difficult cases to create a precedent for legalised killing is the wrong response. We need rather to evaluate these difficult cases so we can do better.”

    As I said earlier i watched my mother die for three years. Had she wished it I would have ended her life regardless of the consequences. I still however feel uncomfortable about the prospect of legalised killing.

    Brian, the article is worth reading in its entirety even if you disagree. If you are prepared to send me your e mail address I will scan the article so you can link to it.

  15. Aroha you say
    “The guilt she carried for having “killed her father” (her words), despite it being his wish, was unmanageable for her and she took her own life a few months after confiding in me.

    I believe this tragic set of circumstances could have been avoided if voluntary euthanasia was allowed.”

    I would be interested in understanding whether your friends guilt was about taking her father’s life or the messy way it came about?

  16. Tania
    This is a forum to discuss and share viewpoints in a polite and informing way.

    Whilst I can empathise with your frustration, to just shut down discussion based on the inference that “Perhaps some of these arrrogant, patronising, comments would change if “you” were actually faced with this degrading way to pass as your future.”
    isn’t helpful to that aim.

    This same applies to Tap & Hum.

  17. ben
    I couldn’t find the article you refer to through google so a URL would be helpful.
    I did find this though at his old workplace.

    This other one on the cost to society of suicide is revealing and certainly gives strength to the pro ethanasia lobby based on costs alone. $3NZD million per death is a lot of money that could be used productively elsewhere.

  18. Mikenz
    Unfortunately if you are going to take that view you might want to aim at a few more posters?
    I do not believe that statement was shutting down conversation at all, that certaibly wasn’t the intent, perhaps I am just not as eloquent a writer as yourself.

  19. If “palliative care” is effective and available to everyone, why do so many people report friends and relatives experiencing unbearable pain? The New Zealand health system is indeed mostly excellent, except in those last days for far too many.

  20. Hello Lettice, I admire you for raising the subject of pain again, but honestly the coal-face end of bone, brain and lung cancer is available to read on the internet. Morphine only controls pain to some extent, methadone only to a degree as well, and as the disease progresses control of pain can be difficult. You really have to trust Dr Pollock and me and understand that it is one of the most unfortunate deaths to have – consequently our raising our voices to legalise voluntary euthanasia for terminally ill people.

  21. Your courage amazez me Michelle. I still hang on to my denial of my situation even though every day I deal with the reality. I do not want to be a burdon to my loved ones -perhaps this is the final stand we take into be in conrol for them.

  22. Michelle, my point is that if palliative care controlled pain in every case, this discussion would be not be happening. It makes me very annoyed when medial administrators pop up on TV to say that pain is well controlled in the majority of cases (they usually come up with a percentage). As though the minority who do suffer severe pain don’t count, or were just an unfortunate aberration. My relative who died of cancer was fortunate in that her pain was well controlled. Not so lucky was the gentleman in the next room .