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The Nation: Anti-euthanasia advocate Vicki Walsh

On Newshub Nation: Simon Shepherd interviews anti-euthanasia advocate Vicki Walsh


Anti-euthanasia advocates are planning to go to Parliament this week for the second reading of the End of Life Choice Bill. One will be Vicki Walsh, who was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer almost eight years ago and has so far defied the predictions. I talked to her at her Palmerston North home.

Vicki Walsh: I was diagnosed with brain cancer called glioblastoma multiforme – it’s a cancer that begins within the brain – and I was given 12 to 14 months to live.

Simon Shepherd: It’s known as the Terminator?

It is indeed. When I googled it for the first time, that’s exactly what came up – the Terminator. It was very frightening.

So what effect did that have on you?

I think when you’re first diagnosed with something like that— It’s the first time I’d ever been diagnosed, so I can only speak from my experience, but I think you’re in a lot of shock. I think you’re viewing your life very fast and very slow, almost like there’s a movie going on and you’re part of it. And it goes on around you, but you’re sitting there and trying to piece everything together, because there are a lot of random thoughts that are going through your head.

Did that push you somewhere? Did that push you into a dark place?

Not initially. Initially there’s a lot going on, and you are exhausted. I had brain surgery and I recovered from that and went on to have chemotherapy and radiotherapy together. That was really exhausting; utterly exhausting. So exhausting that I couldn’t lift my head up. And I was huge from the steroids, so I doubled my body weight and couldn’t pull myself out of bed. I couldn’t wipe my own bum. My husband had to lift me out of bed, on to a wheelchair, take me to the toilet. So there were a lot of things that made me feel degraded. But then I realised that this was all done with love. Like, my husband was very caring about how he did everything, and that gave me hope and stopped me from being scared, I guess. Because it was very scary.

If you were presented with an opportunity to end your life then, do you think you would have taken it?

Not initially. In terms of ending my own life, I did have a go. I didn’t go through with it, but I just decided one morning. And it was actually as I was getting better. Because there wasn’t expected to be a ‘get better’, if that makes sense. So I was having periods of feeling okay-ish, and other periods where I couldn’t move for days on end. But this particular day I just decided that this was it. I looked at my husband; he looked so scared, my kids looked so scared. And I just thought, ‘I don’t want them to experience that.’ So it was never about myself. They didn’t make me feel like a burden, but I didn’t want to be a burden. And I also had this thing about I didn’t want my kids to watch me like that. So, yeah, I had a big pile of pills and I decided to take them. And I didn’t, obviously, take them because if I did, I’d be dead. And it made me think, when I woke up the next day… Because after that I went off to bed, and woke up the next day and I thought, ‘What if I’d gone through with that?’

But if you’d had the legal choice on that day, would things have been different?

Well, I think they would have been. I think my family probably would have been present. Or maybe I wouldn’t have had them here; maybe I just would have done it by myself with the doctor, or maybe I would have had my family all around me, and I would have ended my life. And I just know that that would have been the absolute wrong thing to do, because I was actually suffering, I believe, from depression and exhaustion and the shock of finding out you’re dying. All those things were combined. Any one of those things would be quite difficult to deal with, let alone having them all at once.

So you’ve been to those places and you’ve come out the other end. So why do you think end-of-life choice should not be legal?

Before I was sick, before I was diagnosed with being terminally ill, I honestly believed euthanasia was… like, ‘why didn’t people have that?’ I’d see people or I’d hear stories about people and I’d think, ‘Ohhh.’ I’d judge my evaluation of their life based on my own great life that I had at the time. So when I ended up being in that position, it made me realise how tough life is for some of those people – a lot of those people. And I started talking with more and more people. I talk every week with people that are terminally ill. Not all of them are; I talk with some of their family members. And the things that they say to me are, ‘I am lonely. I am scared. I don’t want to be a burden.’ Those are the three things people say to me more often than not. In fact, 99.9 per cent of the time, that’s what they’ll say. They don’t say, ‘I’m suffering, I’m in pain,’ even though they are. Those aren’t the things that primarily concern them. The biggest concerns are those.

So are you saying that people who are in a vulnerable state could be tempted to use this if it became law?

I think they could be coerced into using it, yes.

By who?

By family pressure. We see that with the elderly now. I think they’re a really good example, with it being Elder Awareness Week this week. We already know that there are people that are being abused for their benefits, or their kids have got them living in their homes and claiming things back for their parents when they’re not looking after them.

This legislation suggests that, to qualify, you have to have a timeline of six months left to live. What do you think of that?

I think a lot can change. I also understand that a lot of people won’t be well. But what about Maggie Barry’s bill about palliative care and increasing palliative care and doing more research into palliative care? Why can’t that be addressed as well?

So finally, if you had a chance to say something to the politicians, what would you say?

I’d say we trust our politicians to make decisions for us. That’s why we don’t get to drive around at 150 kilometres or not wear our seat belt, or we have to wear a helmet when we’re riding our pushbike, and I think we trust them to protect us. We need them to protect us from this bill because idealistically, it could look very appealing to some people. It’s what it opens up.

Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz


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