I was recently contacted by local screenwriter all round champ Briony Kidd to write a response piece about a movie screening at the upcoming Breath of Fresh Air Film Festival in Launceston. I chose the movie 35 Letters, a documentary about Angelique Flowers, a young woman from Melbourne and her plight to die on her own terms.
My response to 35 LettersAs featured on the BOFA website.
I’m turning 25 in several weeks and I think about death often. Not necessarily my own death, but the deaths of people I love. Two people from my year group at school have passed and several friends have died since. Both my grandfathers have died since I became an adult. But in all of this, I can’t imagine myself getting sick and dying. The idea of being in immense pain that doesn’t end is horrifying.
After watching 35 Letters last night, death and the fragility of life have been on my mind all day. I’m participating in Frocktober at the moment – raising money for early detection methods into ovarian cancer. This is the third year I’ve worn a dress each day in October to raise money for vital research. Ovarian cancer has an extremely high mortality rate with hidden symptoms. From what I understand, by the time it’s diagnosed, the cancer has often spread to other parts of the body.
Angelique Flowers was only five years older than me when she passed away a month shy of her 31st birthday from intestinal cancer. Besides the fact that she died so young, the way she died has been the bit that has been haunting me. Angelique researched the way she was going to die. Instead of spending her last moments with her family and friends, she was busy researching ways she could end her own life so she wouldn’t have to die a painful, humiliating death – ultimately from a painful bowel obstruction and vomiting up her faeces.
35 Letters made my body go into a sort of shock – a mash between hot tears and an intake of sharp breath, several times. Though the scenes that most brought this out were not scenes featuring Angelique, but those where Angelique’s brother, Damien, recalled Angelique’s final moments and his own guilt. My three siblings all live at least two plane trips away from me. The idea that one of them may die slowly and painfully, or my parents, begging for help to ease their pain gives me shivers.
Several weeks ago my best friend’s grandfather passed away. My friend told me how he and his wife had kept ‘the green dream’ in the cupboard: a lethal dose of the barbiturate Nembutal. My best friend had always known about the Nembutal, her grandparents had had it since the 1970s and talked openly about using it when the time came. As a nurse, her grandmother had seen countless times how bad it can get for some people before their deaths. I explained to my friend how this was illegal and they could have been investigated. She couldn’t understand how someone else can hold power over the way an individual chooses to die.
I was in the room when my grandfather died last year at the age of 93. I heard his last breath and felt his spirit passing. It was peaceful. I don’t believe he was in pain. If I had thought he was suffering I would have done everything I possibly could to make sure he didn’t. I don’t have the Christian conviction that there is eternal life for us after our physical time on earth. Ideally, I would die peacefully in my sleep, in the arms of my loved ones, and mentally aware enough to have said a heartfelt goodbye. I believe there is power in the way we choose to live and die, and don’t believe that someone else’s Christian beliefs should impact on such an important personal decision. As Angelique Flowers said before her death, “The law wouldn’t let a dog suffer the agony I’m going through before an inevitable death. It would be put down. Yet under the law, my life is worth less than a dog’s.”
When Nick McKim and Lara Giddings tried to pass the Tasmanian Voluntary Assisted Dying bill in 2013, it was defeated by only two votes. So, so close. Not only that, but apparently 80 per cent of Tasmanians polled were in favour of the bill. How does that work? I would love someone to explain to me how MPs are elected to represent the people in their constituents and then not deliver on what they want. Why on earth would you prefer someone you love to suffer a painful, undignified death? People want control over their death. It would be empowering to know when and how you die. Surrounded by loved ones, drifting off to eternal sleep – that would be the ultimate way to end this life.
Thank you to Briony for the opportunity.
Breath of Fresh Air Film Festival is on this coming weekend in Launceston. If anybody needs a lift up from Hobart let me know. It’s going to be a great weekend!