When death knocks

15 October 2012 - 02:26 By Sean Davison
Pat and Sean have gone on a road that is less travelled and mostly shunned by convention
Pat and Sean have gone on a road that is less travelled and mostly shunned by convention

I went for a long walk and thought about Mum's will. I had to look up in the dictionary what "inanition" meant. She had very deliberately and carefully planned every word. It must have been a huge mental and physical effort for her. This was driven by her determination to end her life.

I was taken aback to discover what had been going on. To my face she was going through the daily motions of being interested in life, but behind the facade she had been composing this Living Will to state emphatically the desire that was constantly on her mind.

She didn't want there to be any doubts. There was no arguing her resolve now.

As a doctor, she must have known how easy it is to keep people alive for years if you put them in hospital and medicate them. Such a prospect filled her with horror, with images of the psychiatric patients she treated for so many years. Last year, she gave her medical power of attorney to me. This legal document stated that, should she lose her mental faculties, her power of attorney went to me. This included the authority to decide whether a life support system could be turned off.

I chatted to Mum about her will. I told her we agreed it was her decision and her course of action seemed reasonable. She wouldn't have long to go; we would not send her away, force medication or food on her. I then questioned a small detail. I suggested she delete the line, "unless alternative means occur". She said no alternative means will occur if her Living Will is honoured and she is left to die her "Bobby Sands" way, a hunger strike. I agreed with her and admired how she had planned her death.

Since God wasn't going to help her to a quick and pain-free death, she would take the matter into her own hands. Her plan is foolproof and her resolve will win her this last battle in life.

I asked her if she felt shame in going on a hunger strike.

She replied: "Not at all, I am only worried that, if too many people find out, there will be someone who will try to stop me."

I then asked her how she felt about other elderly women with cancer who choose to live as long as they can. She said that was their choice.

I suggested to her that they could be offended by her implication that life is not worth living when they get to a comparable stage.

She replied: "The time comes when life is not worth living. They will come to the same conclusion as me one day.

"I prefer life to death. But this is not life."

I am going to stay with Mum to the end.

This is an edited extract from the book "Before We Say Goodbye" by Sean Davison, available from book stores for R190