Today has been a year since my father died. When he was told that he had metastatic cancer he accepted the news calmly. Then he made a plan to go the Dignitas Clinic in Switzerland when it all got too hard.
But things escalated quickly and he soon became unable to travel. He asked me to research ways he could die at home but he didn’t want me to have incriminating evidence on my computer. He didn’t want me to bear the repercussions of having helped him to die.
I did this thing for him. I created a new identity and used different computers to search the terms. I found a method that would work and I was prepared to go to much effort (including travelling) to give him the resources he needed but was unable to access himself.
It never happened. Somewhere along the line, he either became incapable of doing what he wanted or he changed his mind. He suffered through incredible pain but he never once brought it up again, even when I asked him ‘Dad, is this too much?’
In that awful timeline I became the person who dealt with the medical situation. I saw his pain, saw my efforts to alleviate it and I saw that I failed.
On his last day he was in so much pain and nothing I could do would make it better, in spite of a morphine pump in his spine. I called the mobile hospice service but they are so few and there is so much demand: it took seven hours for somebody to come and see us.
During that time (on the service advice), I had been crushing up morphine into a powder and mixing with water to squirt it into his cheek so that some of it would absorb even if he couldn’t swallow properly. When he wouldn’t let me do it I enlisted my brother. Between the both of us, we administered enough drugs to keep him painfree for less than an hour.
When the hospice nurse turned up, I begged her to give whatever dosage he needed to make him comfortable. She asked to administer a drug to help his breathing as well, which I agreed with. She made it perfectly clear that combinations of the drugs large enough to help him, would probably hasten death.
I told her to do it anyway.
I live with the guilt of that decision every day. Logically, I do know I did the right thing for him. But viscerally? I enabled the process that killed my father and I find it very hard to live with.
Lots of thoughts go through my mind: he hadn’t asked about the self-exit option so maybe he had changed his mind and wanted to live, right up until the end. Or he wanted it but didn’t want to be seen as a person that took that route. Or maybe even I did it for my convenience – it was so hard on all of us.
I don’t know the total truth of it all and I will never know. The circumstances have changed my views on euthanasia. I will always advocate for the right to end your life if you are in intolerable pain but now I think asking somebody else to do it for you is the ultimate selfish act. I would like to think that if my father knew how much it has scarred my life he would have never asked me to research his dying and I would have never been in a position to facilitate his exit, knowing as I did his wishes.
It is July. The roses on the heritage bush I kidnapped are blooming again. I wonder where you are, my father.