I am a patient with terminal cancer. I have kidney cancer which has spread to the bone. One of my tumours on the lower spine has ‘eaten up’ the L3 vertebra, causing it to fracture and collapse on itself. I have another huge tumour on the rear right pelvic bone. This bone has also been eaten and a portion is ‘not there’.
I have had ups-and-downs throughout my cancer journey, leading to hospitalisation and day stays in the Acute Care Oncology ward. When my condition was diagnosed I was told the prognosis was not good. I was told that I didn’t have much time left and to get my affairs in order.
The pain I’ve had is hard to describe. Many a time even my morphine fix didn’t help. During the early days, when I was going through intense pain spasms, I would have asked to be euthanised if I had the option. If I did not have much time left, why spend it suffering and in excruciating pain? If I had been able to make that choice, I wouldn’t be here today writing my story.
But that was a phase and not the whole story. While we are in pain, we are not really in control of ourselves and our thinking. Remove the pain and, boy, we all want to live on, no matter what our individual conditions are.
With a lot of support and high quality treatment from our health services led by my oncologist, with excellent pain management from hospice and care and support from my dear family and friends, I have been able to fight my way through such times.
That fight has not always been easy but today, more than a year and a half later, I’m in a much better space. I have been able to do things I would never have thought possible. I have travelled to Amsterdam to see my very first grandchild. I’ve been able to celebrate my son’s wedding and dance at the reception too. I’ve been able to live the best quality of life that’s possible. I’ve learnt to live one day at a time and to enjoy each day.
Had I chosen euthanasia, none of this would have happened. If regret was possible, I would have regretted such a decision. Here in New Zealand we are blessed with a fantastic support system. I had no idea at the time what support and services were available. I would have taken the easy step and quit the world, even though I am not known as a quitter.
The point I’m making is that even the best of doctors can get things wrong. We as patients can get things wrong. While once I could have been a strong advocate for euthanasia, my life experience has turned me into a strong opponent of euthanasia. I am strongly opposed to the introduction and passing of the euthanasia bill in New Zealand because it will unnecessarily cut short people’s lives – even strong-minded people like me.
I do wonder if advocates for euthanasia truly have the patient’s best interests at heart. There can be a number of motivating factors for euthanasia. They may be thinking the terminal patient is a burden on resources, or they may be care-givers exhausted by the struggle, or they may simply be motivated by compassion.
But now, after what I have been through, I see things very differently. I don’t see euthanasia as a choice that is ever in my best interests. I am an outpatient at a Hospice in Auckland. Every time I go there and meet other patients, I get the feeling that we all want to fight on. There has not been a single occasion when I have heard any patient say they wished they could die. It is human nature to survive and fight against all odds. We are made to live.
I strongly believe euthanasia should not be legal. It is not simply that we shouldn’t make a decision about someone else’s life. For a whole host of reasons related to the vulnerability that illness brings, we are not qualified to make decisions about our own life. Even with all the knowledge and experience medicine can offer, we are still not in a position to know with any certainty what lies in the future for us. I know this from my own experience.
I am only alive to tell my story because euthanasia is illegal; because my doctors and I had to look for other options. I have been touched and humbled by the outpouring of love and support I have received from so many around me. These last eighteen months have opened my eyes to the true meaning of life. I want to live it!
Denzil Benedict Menezes’ story is published with the permission of his family.