real life

His wife died campaigning for voluntary euthanasia. Here's their story.

Hugh’s wife, Lesley, wishes euthanasia was legal in Australia so that he can help his wife to die before the cancer takes her.

He’s 74, she’s 69 and they have two children and four grandchildren. For the past 13 years she’s been battling cancer and now might only have days to live.  He supports her wishes. We have agreed to only use their first names to protect their privacy.  Here Hugh tells his story, as told to Shelly Horton.

UPDATE FROM HUGH:  

I am sad to report that Lesley died peacefully in her sleep at the weekend. She was unconscious for most of yesterday and mercifully she was pain free due to recent administration of a more powerful cocktail of palliative drugs. She had been able to say goodbye to most of her friends and family. Tanya, Lesley’s sister Wendy and I were privileged to nurse her in her time of need. 

We all admire how Lesley endured her cancer with courage and good humour. She will be sorely missed by myself, my family and her many friends. However, we are relieved that she no longer has to bear the pain, discomfort and disabilities of the most recent six to twelve months of her life. You can’t keep a good girl down and in the last couple of weeks of her life, she campaigned in favour of voluntary euthanasia for terminally ill people.

This is the story she wanted to share.

All prospect of Lesley’s recovery ceased in April this year.

Doctors say ‘It’s impossible to tell but you’re not looking at months but rather a few weeks or just a few days’.  It’s difficult.

The doctors told us in the end she will die because it will strangle her airway or cut off the blood to her brain.

Lesley was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002.

Lesley was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002 and we thought she’d beaten it, but then a few years ago the disease metastasized as tumours around the neck area.  Fortunately the last round lot of chemo did assist the stiffness in her neck as the tumour is pushing her head over to the one side.

Looking back on her life I’m so proud of her.  Lesely was a teacher at Abbotsleigh, a private boarding school for girls in Wahroonga, on Sydney’s North Shore. She was there for 40 years and taught over 5000 girls. Not only was she a teacher and a mum, when she retired she got into wood carving.  She was very good and she’d carve rocking horses worth several thousand dollars each.  She was always very active and very creative.

We’ve still got a pretty close relationship.  We’re still finishing each others’ sentences.

Like most marriages you have your ups and downs. As we got older, we got a bit better at it. Retirement was full of terrific travelling. We were lucky enough to house-sit in the UK for eight months in 2008 and we toured Europe extensively, just the two of us.  She had breast cancer then, but it hadn’t metastasized.

It’s not hard to remember her when she’s well. I went through a lot of photos and it’s comforting now to remember her younger and fitter – but not that much younger. She was still fit in her late 50s and early 60s.

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It’s interesting …  I looked at pictures the other day and there was a photo of her as a bride. She was no shrinking violet. Even in those days she was not submitting to her groom.  She walked down the aisle beaming to the Tannhäuser Overture by Wagner.

“It’s not hard to remember her when she’s well.”

She’s always justifiably been my equal.  Full of self respect.

As a husband going through this, you think you know how you’d react, but you don’t know until you get there.  Seeing another person in that situation you just think ‘this just shouldn’t be happening to another human being’.  And when it’s happening to someone you love you know it’s just not right.

Obviously it’s tough for me but it’s tougher for the lady who’s going through it.

Rather than wait until that horrible end she’d like to have a party, pop a pill and pass away painlessly.

We believe the same thing about voluntary euthanasia – it should be an option with proper legal controls.

It seems ridiculous in this day and age that you don’t have that choice

I understand people are worried about copycat situations of people who aren’t terminally ill or people who are depressed. That’s why it should be legalised and carefully controlled. What I don’t like is when religious views are unfortunately imposed on everyone.

I wonder if they’d feel the same way if they were lying in a hospital bed struggling to breathe?

It gets to a point where you’ve had a enough.

Certainly we’ve thought of the illegal euthanasia methods. I’d be happy to do that. Yes. It would be hard, but a husband wants to be by his wife when she’s in trouble.  Our family is on the same page.  And funnily enough, the medical staff are on our side too.

All she wants is a “happy farewell party”.

But the key thing I worry about is because you’re an amateur you could make a mess of it.  You’re not a doctor.  What happens if the person you’re trying to help ends up in a worse position?

And it leaves a terrible legal mess for the surviving spouse and the children.

That’s why we need a legal method of euthanasia – it would be the best treatment available and do the job painlessly and mercilessly. If it came to the crunch and you were given the option you might chicken out but you should have the option.

All she wants is a “happy farewell party” – the idea is one or two of her closest friends, our children and me, oh and champagne of course.  Funnily enough when we went to Spain we found this champagne called Cava – it’s a very smart wine and a really nice drop.  So she’d have some of that, say goodbye to family and friends, pop a pill and gently go to sleep.

It’s a pity it’s not ending that way.

Do you support voluntary euthanasia? 

If you found this interesting, then you might want to read one of these…

He was a 45-year-old man without a terminal illness. But this euthanasia campaigner helped him to die.

Euthanasia: should an individual have the right to die?

A woman has smothered her sick friend to death – even though he wanted to live.