“My  Life, My Death, My Choice” – A Reader Responds To Possible Assisted Suicide Legislation In Iceland

“My Life, My Death, My Choice” – A Reader Responds To Possible Assisted Suicide Legislation In Iceland

Photos by
Bill Alcock

Published January 18, 2017

An Australian man who had to help his suffering wife pass away peacefully, and is now facing the prospect of his own mortality, felt compelled to respond to a recent Grapevine article about a special interest group advocating for “right to die” legislation in Iceland. He wants Grapevine readers to know that “enforced prolonged life, when quality of life is lost, is a fate far worse than death”.

As reported, a newly-formed special interest group, Lífsvirðingar (“Life of Dignity”), hopes to advocate for changes to Icelandic laws that would allow for assisted suicide under special circumstances. Amongst the aims of the group is to support legislation that would, under a specific set of circumstances, allow for assisted suicide for those who choose to die with dignity.

For Australian Bill Alcock (above, far right), this is a matter very close to his heart.

“I am an 91 year old veteran affairs pensioner,” Bill told us. “I recently arrived home from Prince of Wales hospital where I had open heart surgery. I have several other failing parts and I am scared stiff that I may be confined indefinitely to a nursing home. When quality of life is lost and the sufferer is confined in care with Alzheimer’s, dementia, incontinence and the like, palliative care is definitely not enough.”

Bill has firsthand experience with the concept of dying with dignity, as he was compelled to help ease the suffering of his wife, with the help of medical professionals.

“My wife had uncontrollable diabetes and an inoperable heart condition,” Bill says. “She was admitted to hospital 17th September 2015. On the 19th of September, her treating doctor rang to advise me that she was failing to the extent that she would have to be transferred to a nursing home. This is not what my wife wanted at the end of life. I called her enduring guardian, and he conferred with her doctor, showing her Pat’s choices in her advance health care directive: no resuscitation, no treatment that would prolong life, no further food or sustenance. The doctor instructed her treating nurse to administer morphine injections on the hour. Pat passed away peacefully with family by her side.”

For Bill, dying with dignity is very much a human rights issue.

“I find it very difficult to believe that anyone with an ounce of compassion can deny those who have lost quality of life, be it by degeneration or terminal illness, the right to make a choice for a dignified and peaceful death, provided this has been documented in an advance health care directive whilst of sound mind,” he says. “There are thousands of patients in hospitals and nursing homes with no quality of life lingering on indefinitely awaiting the blessing of death to release them from their despair.”

Bill’s full statement, previously published in the Sydney Morning Herald as a letter, can be read below:

I am an 91 year old veteran affairs pensioner. I recently arrived home from Prince of Wales hospital where I had open heart surgery. I have several other failing parts and I am scared stiff that I may be confined indefinitely to a nursing home.

When quality of life is lost, and the sufferer is confined in care with Alzheimer’s, dementia, incontinence and the like, palliative care is definitely not enough.

My wife had uncontrollable diabetes and an inoperable heart condition. She was admitted to hospital 17th September 2015. On the 19th September, her treating doctor rang to advise me that she was failing to the extent that she would have to be transferred to a nursing home. This is not what my wife wanted at the end of life. I called her enduring guardian, and he conferred with her doctor, showing her Pat’s choices in her advance health care directive: no resuscitation, no treatment that would prolong life, no further food or sustenance.

The doctor instructed her treating nurse to administer morphine injections on the hour. Pat passed away peacefully with family by her side

I hope I get a compassionate and caring doctor like this lady if ever I am in the same position.

When our pets lose quality of life, the vet eases them out in a dignified manner. Why not humans?

I find it very difficult to believe that anyone with an ounce of compassion can deny those who have lost quality of life, be it by degeneration or terminal illness, the right to make a choice for a dignified and peaceful death, provided this has been documented in an advance health care directive whilst of sound mind.

When the end is nigh, it is best to avoid hospital. The health system is geared to actively treating patients and prolonging life; not to recognize the dying.

There are thousands of patients in hospitals and nursing homes with no quality of life, lingering on indefinitely, awaiting the blessing of death to release them from their despair.

If ever I am unfortunate enough to be placed in the same situation, I hope there is a sympathetic doctor around to end my life in a dignified and peaceful manner.

In light of the [Australian] government’s unsympathetic attitude, I have no option but to direct in my advance health care directive that, if I should lose quality of life, I do not want any medical treatment that will prolong my life and I do not want any further sustenance or fluid. Although it will take me a few days to die, this option is better than the alternative. It would give me great peace of mind if I could get medical assistance to die in a dignified manner if I should lose quality of life.

It is my firm opinion that enforced prolonged life when quality of life is lost is a fate far worse than death. I fear degeneration far more than I fear death. It is inhumane to leave those who have lost quality of life, whether it be degeneration or terminal illness, that leaves them confined in a nursing home indefinitely suffering from dementia, Alzheimer’s, incontinence and the like.

Times have changed. In my grandparent’s day, there were no nursing homes. My parents cared for them at home, the family doctor visited every other week to check on them, issue scripts and, when they lost quality of life, he asked for a family conference and was given permission to ease them out with analgesics. It was not called euthanasia but rather compassion.

My strong belief is the right for everyone to make a choice for euthanasia should they lose quality of life has been influenced by two family occurrences:

The first, a heavy smoker with cancer of the throat deteriorated quickly. I could hear him gasping for breath as I entered the main hospital entrance. He could not communicate, did not recognise anyone and was being fed intravenously. Fortunately, I was able to persuade a sympathetic doctor to ease him out in a dignified manner.

The second, a mate who served with me in the Second World War who had always expressed the wish not to be confined in a nursing home. The doctor put his arm around him one day in my presence and said to him, “Don’t you worry, Tom. When the time comes I will ease you out.” This gave Tom great peace of mind. However, the time came when Tom had to go in a nursing home and was given medication to stop him wandering at night, crying out and disturbing other patients. He deteriorated quickly, became incontinent of bowels and bladder, was bedridden, unable to communicate and did not recognise anyone.

When I approached the doctor for help, he said, “Sorry, I cannot do anything for him now as all medication in a nursing home has to be documented.” Tom was allowed to lie in his bed in this state for 15 months. Surely you must agree that this is an extremely cruel fate to impose upon someone who had served his country with distinction.

I would strongly recommend that everyone prepare an advance health care directive and appoint an enduring guardian, so that he or she has the authority to liaise with the doctor in the preparation of a health care management plan when quality of life is lost.

The health care management plan should provide that you not be subjected to intervention or treatment aimed at prolonging life, and that any distressing symptoms (including and caused by lack of food or fluid) are fully controlled by appropriate analgesics or other treatment, even though this may shorten life. For those wishing to avoid prolonged confinement in a nursing home and distress to loved ones, I would strongly recommend that they take this action whilst of sound mind.

In conclusion, let me make it clear that it is not my intention to impose my views on anyone. However, I consider that euthanasia should be an option for those who have documented their wishes in an advance health care directive.


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