Martin’s mother had died of Huntington’s disease. Her truly dreadful death took years. In the final stages of Huntington’s the mind loses its ability to control even the simplest movements – even swallowing is difficult and many sufferers die choking.
So, at 19 years old, Martin learned he had a 50 per cent chance of suffering the disease. He decided not to marry. Or have children. The risk was too great. And in his 40th year he got the fateful diagnosis.
We knew what he was planning. But the law forbade us helping or even knowing.
He put his affairs in order. On his own, one night at home, alone, he pinned a note to his new pyjama top: “Huntington’s disease: Please Do Not Resuscitate”. He attempted a massive overdose. But poor Martin. He didn’t get all the pills down.
Reading the story again, I am now struck by the line, "We knew what he was planning."
When I've had friends whom I knew were planning to kill themselves, I did everything I could to help them find the courage and the will to live again. Everything. I don't understand this passive acceptance of another person's desire to die when their life is still worth living. Where were his friends at this point of his life?
His neighbour found him. Martin regained consciousness in Wellington Hospital. The circulation had stopped to his legs and the doctors wanted to amputate.
Martin asked what would happen if they didn’t cut his legs off. “You will die”.
“Good,” replied Martin, “I have Huntington’s disease.”
I have an autistic brother that is in care and will never experience the type of life that Martin was able to lead. He's in his forties now, and will most likely live for another forty years, unable to speak, having to be looked after, and never in real control of his life. He doesn't have Huntington's disease, he has something far worse. Yet, rather than living in fear of what might come, he lives day to day, making the most of his life as best he can. As we all do.
Martin Hames died peacefully in his sleep in the early hours of the next morning. His dad was there. He died happy and he died content.
Martin had every right to take his own life. He also had every right to ask for help. But to give that help is against the law.
Martin feared he would slip into madness or lose control before he killed himself and be sentenced to years of suffering that would be hateful to him.
Maryan Street’s End of Life Choice Bill, now before Parliament, would have enabled Martin to plan his death better. He would not have needed to rush to it.
He and I joked one last time. Then he was serious. He said if I wanted to do something in his memory it would be to change our law so no one else had to go through what he had had to go through. He said, “Boss, change it, change it for all the others.”
I told him I would do my very best.
This column’s not as good as you could write, Martin. But it’s my best. And it’s for you.
Right. Do Martin and Rodney want the law changed so that my brother can be killed as well? And who would decide if his life was unbearable?
I'll say again what I said on Kiwiblog yesterday, suicide is essentially a selfish act. Extending that suicide to requiring others to help with it is another level of selfishness again, where the person wanting to die compounds the evil done by requiring others to participate in it, thus changing them forever.
Rodney Hide doesn't need to get the law changed so that no one else has to go through what Martin went through. He just has to be upfront and say that he failed his friend when he needed him, when his friend was planning to kill himself and Rodney did nothing.
We are all going to die, and the idea of death for many people is terrifying. But creating a society where a person can be terminated on request will change all of us, and not for the better.
Related links : Rodney on Euthanasia – his full column