By Jeanette Saxby,
Auckland, New Zealand.
I haven’t been thinking about it myself. Not lately anyway. However there are two main reasons I have been giving it some thought.
The first is euthanasia and the fact that in New Zealand, our Government refuses to enact a law that allows a person the right to die. The reason that euthanasia has become a talking point in the media is due to a young woman and lawyer by the name of Lucretia Searles. Lucretia had a brain tumour and challenged the existing law as she was herself dying. In true ironic fashion, one that is chillingly cold this request was denied. This woman was denied choice in how to spend her last few days.
Like the hero she was, she battled on in the court with the obvious loving support of her partner . The man who was going to miss her the very most, and yet he understood her wishes and when the law came down, not in her favour sadly, he fought on. Lucretia heard but passed away that evening. Her darling husband has bravely forged on with her wishes by appearing on television current affairs shows explaining how Lucretias bill would allow a person, with the full knowledge of their doctor, the right to end their life and allow their loved ones to be present.
Currently people who wish to end their life must be alone. Anyone present in the room can be charged with assisting a suicide. There are several well known names in New Zealand’s history who have campaigned for this after also witnessing a loved one die, wracked in pain. Some people store up their medication and send their loved one to the shops or library to complete this end of life ritual. I confess to having similar thoughts and a plan of action when I had a health scare and anxiously awaited a biopsy from a ovarian growth. The problem was a benign cyst not a tumour and life went along as normal.
I did consider my options if I had a terminal illness and my choice was to die. I didn’t want to wait six months to waste away. I certainly wasn’t going to enter into a chemotherapy treatment. I wanted to leave my life while it was still good. I wanted my children to have only good memeories and not to deal with the burden of a dying mum. I would make it look like an accident and make sure the day before was full of love and good memories. It was possible I could die. Recently I had discovered a very good friend of mine, Rhona had died of breast cancer and I was fully ignorant. She was a total inspiration and best friend I ever had. When she moved to the North Island things changed in our relationship and it never recovered. I was shocked when I heard of her death and it sent me into a depression.
“Instead of dying, I got rid of the excess medications and decided to get the hell out of the sad place I was in, not only mentally but physically. I moved to a beach community to have fun and surf but I wasn’t doing either. Surfing scared me silly. I was offered an unusual opportunity in Auckland and as Christchurch had just suffered a major earthquake I needed to go.”
Two more suicides of a young man and an older man, my age, prompted me to accelerate out of there.
I have had some experience with depression personally and as a drug and alcohol counsellor. I studied the different views of depression as part of my topic of interest. There are several theories for depression and several treatments. I view my depression as a reflection of my life experiences . When I separated from my husband my depression was full blown. It had been hiding but not quietly and I suffered from the illness my whole married life. Depression made me leave a marriage due in part to the shame I felt at being unable to manage my moods and constantly felt homesick. Not unusual in hindsight at 22 living in a country I didn’t like much and didn’t have any purpose.
In my younger years several people expressed the desire to kill themselves and I felt confident in my training that I could be of value and stop them ending their life. My plan was simple but effective. Go to their home, make cups of tea and hang around till the person feels a bit better and can see their doctor or psychiatric services or whomever . We are all individuals. Everyone has a different thought process and metabolic rate. We all respond to drugs differently and many of us just need some decent nights sleep.
Some suicides are very quick and spontaneous actions that no one could have predicted. But in some cases suicides are occurring because of a fear of illness or an illness that ends with the patient unable to have any personal quality of life.
How many elderly people are so afraid of being alone that couples both have an exit strategy than can be double suicides or murder suicide if a partner has to help their helpless dying partner end their pain?
“We must do something comprehensive in New Zealand about suicide prevention. After all these deaths are all preventable. When you learn that our country has a road toll which is lower than our suicide rate some new policy, plan of action and money from the government is urgently required.”
No one sets out to have a road accident and we have had road safety campaigns for as long as I can remember. As a result in New Zealand we have a speed limit of 100k and safety belts are compulsory as is vehicle testing alled warrant of fitness. Children must be restrained in cars and we recently dropped our blood alcohol level for driving. So in every way we are trying to lower the road toll. That is no mean feat in a country as big as New Zealand with so many lonely winding and icy roads in winter and secondary roads being gravel even.
How much money should we be spending to save 500 or more lives each year?
Cannabis Laws in New Zealand are causing the death of people. Cannabis arrests in this country occur every 29 minutes according to one expert. 87% of police arrests are due to cannabis despite the assurances we hear every year that the police are going after serious criminal offending. I guess they just can’t help being lazy enough to pick the low hanging fruit. Cannabis smells distinctive. For the police the smell alone is enough for them to gain entry to your house.
Certainly the fear of prison causes more than a few suicides. The shame and fear combined can push people over the edge. I wonder just how many people of the 500 hundred a year that take their life in New Zealand could be saved?
We have an organisation called Victim Support. After a violent death or family tragedy, the police contact this agency and a trained person goes around to the family to listen and offer support and put the victim in touch with other agencies that may be helpful.
I propose that the same is done for any person who calls the helpline, we have a phone service called lifeline, although I think the miserable Government has also cut funding. I wonder what is a live worth compared to the cost of a life taken too soon.
Isn’t it good economics to help preserve a life?
I wonder about thepeople who are left when a person has killed themself. There is grief obviously, sometimes guilt and pain. Not only that it is statically proven that if one of your parents or grandparents has taken their own life the chances increase that their family will also choose to end their life prematurely.
The reasons behind suicide are vast – from young people being bullied at school, to the thought that I’ll prove something by dying. I may have a great funeral and teach all the people who were unkind a lesson. Some young people take their own life after a relationship break up or a parents planned divorce. The reasons given are endless but we need to reframe our lens and view suicide as preventable. Sometimes we notice people have become withdrawn, sometimes people suffering depression put a brave face on to the world but inside feel hopeless. A lack of hope is a hard thing to comprehend. But it happens. Sometimes loss of a loved one, a pet, a job or even a move from your former city makes a person feel that things will never be good again.
Medication has a part to play in helping with depression but when life is so damn difficult, single mums with sick children and low incomes can be an endless grind. What ever the reason, maybe today is the day to care a bit more. Ask your friends or family how are they doing and really mean it. One thing I do know is, when you focus on another person if lifts your own burden for a while. Caring is what we all need to practice more.
It is time for a new approach and the belief that suicide is preventable not inevitable.