The End of life Choice Bill comes with a dark side that we cannot ignore, writes Claire Freeman.
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25 April, 2019
By Claire Freeman.
I'd consider myself more liberal than conservative, a girl who grew up in a secular family. Growing up, I didn't really understand the implications of having a 'choice'.
That all changed when I turned 17 and was in a car crash where a family member fell asleep while driving. As a result, I became a tetraplegic, requiring a wheelchair for mobility, with impaired arm movement. I attempted suicide a few times in the years following the crash. Each time, I'd end up in a coma in hospital. In 2015, health professionals encouraged me to explore assisted suicide. I signed up to a Swiss assisted suicide group and felt all my suffering and pain would soon be over.
Before I was to leave for Switzerland, I had another operation on my broken neck. The operation was a disaster, leaving me more paralysed. I had to give up my career, I lost financial security, became more dependant and was in more pain than ever.
I spent months in bed reflecting on my life. I had managed to complete my degree, a Master's and had even worked full time. In hindsight, I realised my biggest problem had been my mindset and a lack of proper support. Prior to the botched neck surgery, to cope with grief, I would take on more work, even volunteering at Youthline as a counsellor.
I thought three hours sleep a night was normal and the pain from pushing myself was inevitable.
I realised that being offered assisted suicide instead of suicide support was disturbing. I had been told "if I was in your position, with your disability, I wouldn't want to live" by the very health professionals who are there to help suicide survivors. No one ever asked about my toxic mindset and frantic way of living.
I turned to social media to tell my story and to give others a sense of hope. I now receive hundreds of replies from people talking about this issue. Many come from Kiwis with the same injury as me who want to die, as I did. At this point, I started reconsidering my stance on assisted suicide. At the same time, in parliament, the End of Life Choice Bill was initiated.
I don't want to take choice away from people, and it's hard to argue when someone talks about terminal cases and pain, watching people you love suffer or thinking that if you were to be diagnosed with an illness, you could have a 'pleasant way out'. Unfortunately, there's a darker side to this bill.
Along with those cases there will be others whose also 'choose death'. Vibrant people who have had a traumatic injury that, in some cases, develops into terminal conditions, because they feel they have no hope at that moment.
The reality is that our current health system does not provide the support needed to help people live, or even recognise that there might be another way.
Despite the hate and bullying I've received, I am speaking out because hiding our problems doesn't help; it just creates a wall of silence. Our staunch culture of 'she'll be right' is one of the reasons New Zealand has such a high suicide rate. We bottle up our feelings, we pretend we are OK when we are not.
If I didn't speak out, how could I live knowing there could be another person thinking and feeling how I did – not knowing that life can change, with support, and with the right coping skills and medication. I don't want to see a vulnerable person talking to a health professional who assumes their life is of little value due to their disability or illness.
Being offered assisted suicide instead of suicide support was disturbing.
The reality is this: If the End of Life Choice Bill, in its current form, were law four years ago, I'd be dead. This isn't about religion or politics; it's about trying to do the right thing and highlight the dangers of this bill.
It's strange that the majority of people directly affected by this bill aren't being given a platform to voice our concerns. This isn't just about the cases we hear so much about, the terminally ill, in pain and suffering.
I don't want to dismiss their issues and their choice, but this bill affects more than that population. It affects people like me and our most vulnerable. It's not a choice for us when we aren't treated equally, in society or within the healthcare system. It isn't a choice when we feel there are no other options.
Claire Freeman (Ngāpuhi) is a PhD student at AUT with a Masters in Health Science from Otago University. She is a disability advocate, social influencer, blogger and youth worker. Claire is a former euthanasia advocate but now speaks out against End of Life Choice Bill. She herself is a tetraplegic and multiple suicide survivor who, three years ago, was advised by her NZ psychiatrist and a psychologist to pursue assisted suicide or euthanasia overseas. She lives to tell the tale in a documentary (below) from #DefendNZ released Wednesday 3 April 2019.
Watch Claire’s documentary in widescreen and read her complete story here.