I read a disturbing but insightful article in last Saturday’s The Age. The article was entitled “The Big Sleep”. It told the story of Patricia and Peter Shaw who last October carried out a suicide pact in their Brighton home. They left behind three adult daughters.
Peter Shaw was a senior meteorologist. Highly intelligent. Very articulate.
Patricia was a biochemist who taught at one of the universities. Two of their daughters had PhDs and the third was a concert violinist.
The Shaws were sane and rational individuals who had decided that they would choose the time, manner and location of their death. They were non-religious. Sitting around for years with rugs on their laps was not for them.
They were members of Philip Nitschke’s group Exit International. Through the group they obtained the means to end their lives. Pat was to be poisoned and Peter was to die using equipment he kept in the shed.
The Shaws led full lives. Peter was a mountaineer in his youth. He spent some time exploring Antartica. He met Patricia in the mountaineering club. They spent their spare time bushwalking and travelling. They had a close network of friends, were respected in their professions.
Their views on euthanasia were succinctly expressed in Peter’s letter to the editor in 2007 which I have copied below
Pat and Peter decided to end their lives last October, the day after Peter’s 87th birthday.
Age was catching up to them. Peter complained that he had trouble following the arguments he read in intellectual publications. Pat complained of aches and pains. Their children had noticed a deterioration in their condition.
The children were informed of their parents’ intentions and the day they had selected. It would occur at midday.
On the chosen day, the children visited them and said their goodbyes. At midday they filed out of the home and waited in a nearby park.
Pat was afraid of being left alone so her death occurred first under her husband’s careful supervision. He then went to the shed to end his own life.
The girls returned at 1.30 pm and called emergency services. It was important they were not present during the suicides as assisting a suicide is a crime.
I understand euthanasia when a person is suffering with no prospect of recovery. I understand the decision made not to resuscitate a dying person.
I believe that there is an important difference between prolonging life and delaying death. I understand steps taken and decisions made not to postpone death.
But my “open-mindedness” on the subject cannot accept what the Shaws did to themselves.
Intellectually I understand what the Shaws sought to achieve. But my understanding and sympathies finish there.
For me, suicide is still taboo. The idea that people can finish their lives because they want to seems wrong to me. I say this not only because life is sacred and precious. I say it because I feel what the Shaws did was a tad selfish.
Spare a thought for their children. Reading the article I had the sense that the daughters were still deeply grieving the loss of their mum and dad. Their parents were dynamic and intelligent people. Life of the party. Centre of each debate. And now they are gone. Gone because they wanted to go. Because they could. Because they preferred death to this world (yes sometimes it hurts and it is difficult and it’s confusing….), they preferred the big sleep to the company of their children and friends.
Spare a thought for their friends.
Spare a thought for those struggling against insuperable odds to cling to life. To those who dedicate their lives to helping others cling to life. What does this act say to them?
We live in a disposable world but is life also disposable?
Of course the Shaws will say they cannot be responsible for everyone else. They are only responsible for themselves. They can’t live their lives worrying about what others think and feel. What their daughters think and feel.
This “me” attitude is the curse of our generation.
I recommend the article to your reading.
What do you think?
A link to the article is included below