19 March 2003
By RYAN KEEN
A private member's bill aiming to legalise voluntary euthanasia is working its way through Parliament. A Christchurch man, whose wife begged for death, tells why he hopes it will be voted down.
Two months ago Maurice Smith sat in his bedroom, pillow in his hands, wondering whether he should end the pain of his wife who was in the room next door.
He decided against it, rejecting the wish of his wife, Bettine, who at the start of the year had asked him to help end her life.
Now he looks back on his decision with relief, but admits at the time it wasn't an easy one.
"It's easy for someone to say they will never do it, but until you are faced with the reality you can't say how you will act."
Bettine, who at 68 had suffered from multiple sclerosis for 35 years, was at her lowest ebb.
Five years earlier she had fallen at home knocking herself unconscious, compounding her condition with internal bleeding that caused brain damage. Unable to straighten her legs because of multiple sclerosis, the heels of her feet had started to literally rot from the constant pressure of being tucked back underneath her body. The bones had started protruding and dead skin needed removing daily.
"Bettine's been coming and going; she's been blind, hasn't been able to walk, tripping over things and the last few years it's really bitten in.
"She kept asking me to put a pillow over her head. She would plead with me. One or two times I sat in my room worrying like hell – worrying that I might do it.
"Because of what's happened in the last three weeks I'm so glad I didn't," Mr Smith said.
The heels of his bed-ridden wife have healed remarkably. They remain bandaged but she has a special bed that automatically tilts every half an hour to ease the pressure on her legs.
She wakes every morning with a smile on her face, enjoys watching television, having visitors, and fondly remembers with a few softly spoken words her tennis-playing days. Her gratitude for her husband's decision to keep and care for her at home over the years also shines through.
"He looks after me," she says beaming at him.
Mr Smith said part of the inspiration for continuing to care for his wife at home came from reading about the vows exchanged by the Anglican Bishop of Christchurch, David Coles, who remarried almost two years ago.
Mr Coles and his fiancee vowed to stand by each other no matter what happened.
"It made me a more caring person," Mr Smith said.
His own personal battle with the euthanasia debate has left Mr Smith – a justice of the peace – firmly in the anti-euthanasia camp.
He hopes the Death with Dignity bill drafted by New Zealand First MP Peter Brown and working its way through Parliament's processes will be voted down.
Having been there, and done that, Mr Smith said his position was "not just a top of the head comment".
"It's too easy to give up," he said.
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