Lucretia Seales was named New Zealander of the Year in 2015. Her attempt to gain the right to physician-assisted suicide was unsuccessful but she triggered a lot of public debate about the issue and put it back on the political agenda.
It is hard to think of a more complex and contentious issue in the health sector and this column is not the right forum for a major discussion about it.
However, I do think it is worth just considering the implications of the word euthanasia. Strictly speaking, it means “good death”, ‘eu’ being Greek for ‘good’ or ‘well’ and ‘thanatos’ meaning ‘death’. In fact, it had just that meaning for hundreds of years before being applied to mercy killing. And when faced with the inevitability of our passing, isn’t that what we all want – a good death?
For most of us this would mean peacefulness, freedom from pain and the opportunity to be surrounded and supported by loved ones. If it can be in our own home, or at least close to home, all the better.
I am so glad that modern medicine has made that kind of end possible for most people. Even in the last few years there have been tremendous advances in palliative care and the Hibiscus Coast in particular has benefitted from having an exceptional facility (Hibiscus Hospice) dedicated to that purpose.
This kind of medical care is demanding and I take my hat off to the doctors, nurses and support staff who do it. They maintain a level of professional expertise and positivity which is truly inspiring. It is not so long ago that we, as individual GPs, were managing patients in their own homes with very limited options for intervention and support. It wasn’t uncommon to be in and out of patients’ home several times a day as we tried to deal with symptoms which could change hour by hour. In that situation, stress on the family (and doctor) could be very high, and the death was not always “good”.
But now, health professionals have a real sense of partnership with Hibiscus Hospice as we co-work to make this precious time as good as it can be. The hospice’s motto, “Living Every Moment”, is particularly meaningful and more than just an aspiration. And indirectly, this is a credit to our community – to every person who helps in the Hospice Shops, who made a donation or volunteered their services, a heartfeld thank you!