Phil Horrobin: I’m voting YES so others don’t suffer like my parents

Phil Horrobin is voting YES so others don’t suffer like his parents

Growing up on a farm I could see the importance my parents placed on avoiding any unnecessary suffering in the animals under their care. So when my father, Cedric, who had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease more than a decade earlier, spoke to me about not wanting to endure greater suffering towards the end of his life I understood his point of view. By this stage he was largely confined to a chair at home, moved around using a hoist – sometimes by me but mostly by my infinitely caring mother.

How could I help though? He didn’t want a violent or undignified end. He certainly didn’t want me to jeopardise my future by assisting him to die.

So, as it is with so many stories, Dad winds up in hospital, breaks a hip, stays there for so long he tells me he feels ‘institutionalised’, eventually contracts pneumonia, and dies. He became a shadow of the big, strong, intelligent farmer who would have been just at home as a university professor.

Three years later, my mother, Audrie, is diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease. A cruel blow for someone who seemed to have finally turned the corner after the hard work of caring for, and grief over losing, her husband of more than 45 years.

So we travelled – Egypt, Turkey, Europe – she even joined us on honeymoon with her friends coming along to help her celebrate her 70 th birthday. We had seen this disease before in my grandmother – her mother – and knew that time was of the essence.

And it was. Mum’s decline was swift with muscles wasting away, more and more difficulty breathing, eating, drinking, and talking – essentially all the things she loved to do. She told me that her wish was, when the time came, to be given enough medication to allow her to slip away, completely oblivious.

In spite of this she fought for life. After my son, her first grandchild, was born, she backtracked on an earlier decision and decided to have a feeding tube inserted into her stomach in the hope it might allow her a little extra time.

Eventually a chest infection led to pneumonia, which led to a transfer to hospice – away from her home, her cat…her normality. She stayed there three days, sedated with morphine, drifting in and out of consciousness. The wonderful hospice team would come and bathe her and turn her over to help relieve pressure. Every time this happened we would return to the room and see the pain on her face as she coughed and struggled to breathe as a result of the change in position.

On the final night we came back to her room to this familiar sight but this time it didn’t ease off in the same way. Her breathing slowed and she was finally allowed to get the peace that she would have chosen to have three days earlier.

Last week I voted YES – for the memory of my parents, for my family and our future, and for the other families whose unnecessary pain and suffering can be eased for generations to come.