Dementia and the options of dying

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To submit a letter to The Age, email [email protected]. Please include your home address and telephone number. No attachments, please include your letter in the body of the email. See here for our rules and tips on getting your letter published.

Too many of us are going to succumb to dementia at the long end stage of our lives. As several letters correspondents have pointed out, leaving the decision to others to terminate our lives in that stage is fraught with ethical problems. I want to be able to decide now, while I still have rational powers, the conditions under which my life will end. This is currently denied by a law that requires me to have less than six months’ life expectancy while still being able to make such decisions, which is far from the case for most dementia victims.
Jan Newmarch, Oakleigh

The law needs to change
One of your correspondents (13/5) says those with dementia are discriminated against because Victoria’s voluntary assisted dying legislation excludes dementia as an eligibility criterion. Another correspondent is concerned because, if the term “voluntary” were to be deleted for those with dementia, some patients’ lives might be terminated without their consent.
A solution might be to change the law so that everyone could be permitted to list some specific irreversible conditions (such as no longer being able to recognise their loved ones) and to write in a legally recognised document, such as their will, that they want to be helped to die once the condition occurs. This would avoid both discrimination and non-consensual termination of life.
I write as a Baby Boomer who believes in assisted dying, does not have dementia, but has close friends who do.
Mirna Cicioni, Brunswick East

Taking care of the end stages
I am in my early 80s, physically and mentally healthy, but concerned by the possibility of dementia occurring to me. I suggest that I should be legally able to pass the responsibility for my choosing to apply for voluntary assisted dying, in the event that I suffer from dementia, to my family. This diagnosis would need to be verified medically. I could alter my will so that should they take this option, some of my estate would then be donated to research into this problem. But personally I have discussed this with them and trust that they would follow my wishes.
Kyle Matheson, Mont Albert

When enduring it is a suffering
My mother died six weeks ago. She had vascular dementia and had a stroke six weeks before her death. She was paralysed on her right side and couldn’t speak. Well, she tried to speak and often said ″⁣come on″⁣ (meaning help) whenever I was with her. I saw her retreat further and further and she stopped trying to speak or make eye contact. She gave up using her left hand to seek comfort holding my hand. I will never forget the hoist the aged care home used to transport her out of the bed in her room into the bed-wheelchair for placement near the nurse station during the day. A little old lady lifted up like a piece of meat. I saw her suffer every day. It was a relief when the second stroke eased her suffering. I know what my mum’s strong feelings were about dementia. It was her greatest fear and sadly she had no choice but to endure it. I am glad my feisty, independent and very humorous mum is now free.
Ange Mackie, Coburg

It can, it should, be our decision
People are not asking for someone else to make a decision on voluntary assisted dying on their behalf. As a living will, why cannot we make the statement in advance that if we are diagnosed with dementia and deteriorate to a level that we personally decide and state, we then wish to access voluntary assisted dying. This would be our decision and no one else’s, made when we were of sound mind. Having observed my mother descend into a vegetative state and be kept alive until 90, I am terrified of it happening to me. If my mother had died three years earlier, she would have died with dignity.
As a physiotherapist, I have observed this situation professionally as well as personally. As medical advances have increased our lifespan, this is a very serious issue that must be addressed.
Jill Edwards, Camberwell


Perils of speaking out
Antony Loewenstein has given us a comprehensive analysis of the dangers of advocating justice in Palestine (Good Weekend, 13/5). I thank him for speaking out amidst the flood of criticism and vitriol that he receives. All of us who advocate for Palestine must be prepared to be falsely accused of antisemitism by the Zionist lobby, but the greatest hatred seems to be directed at fellow Jews.
Calling for an end to Israeli human rights abuses is not antisemitic, but humanitarian. I am deeply saddened by the inhumanity shown by the Israeli regime towards Palestine and its indigenous people. It is truly a case of the abused becoming the abusers.
Lorel Thomas, Blackburn South

Reduced to tears
Antony Loewenstein’s article filled me with strong emotions which reduced me to tears. First, there was awe at the courage of the man speaking out and incurring the wrath of his fellow Jews. Second, there was sadness as he recounted the persecution of Jews, in Europe, from the 1930s, and now, the occupation of Palestinian homes and land by the State of Israel. Next was fear for the future of our world in the face of growing totalitarianism in many countries.
His plea was for open and honest discussion by and with ″⁣the Jewish establishment″⁣ in Australia, which he says remains resolutely Zionist. The previous time Loewenstein wrote in this newspaper, I lamented the deafening silence that followed.
In light of so many citizens of Israel conducting ongoing protests against their government’s moves to hobble their judiciary, we can only hope that this will inspire the local Jewish communities, who have contributed so much to Australia, to take up Loewenstein’s challenge.
Vince Corbett, Essendon

My street, my home
In regard to your correspondent (Letters, 13/5) who lives in Doncaster East and objects to a 30km/h speed limit in residential streets in Collingwood, I live in Wellington Street, Collingwood, I walk along it and ride my bike down it every day.
I believe the 30km/h speed limit is both necessary and appreciated by the growing number of people who live and work in my neighbourhood. If you want higher speed limits, you are welcome to use Hoddle Street. Wellington Street is my home, not your rat-run.
Elizabeth Long, Collingwood

Credit not due for this
Holidaying in Queensland recently, I was separated from all my bank cards. All cancelled and new ones sent to my home address in Melbourne. I then had to live off cash for 10 days. I think I missed the memo that cash is no longer legitimate currency in Australia. Businesses all wanted, nay insisted, that customers use cards, and herein is the problem: the customer wears the cost of the card use.
I realise the benefits to businesses but I am unprepared to wear the cost of such transactions, and why should I? How can the legal currency of Australia be refused and the customer charged for the alternative to cash?
Anne-Marie Scully, Carlton

A person’s last rights
Once diagnosed with dementia, or indeed other dehumanising degenerative conditions, why can’t a person stipulate their wishes ahead of their loss of competency? Once we reach a point where we are no longer living, but merely existing, we should be able to access assisted dying if that is what we had chosen for ourselves.
This could be a formal, signed and witnessed document, much like our wills. There would still be the need for doctors, unrelated to the patient, to give their final approval for this access.
We are already able to stipulate, in our advanced years, that there be no life-saving medical intervention if we found ourselves in such a situation as it was needed to save our lives.
Ross Churcher,
Frankston South

Muddy future
The Coalition is unlikely to be in power for the next eight years. No nuclear reactor will be authorised in the meantime. The lead time to build, train staff and arrange for waste management would be at least 10 years. Keep this in mind, Australia, where virtually no big project is ever completed on time and within budget.
If we haven’t solved our energy issues using currently available clean options by 2040, we are definitely doomed.
Peter Barry, Marysville

A yen for Tokyo
Your correspondent (Letters, 13/5) doesn’t want Melbourne to become like Tokyo in the sense of being overly large and crowded.
There are many things about Tokyo I’d love to see here. It is remarkably devoid of litter and graffiti. It has a complex non-radial above ground and underground train network, which is complemented by regular local bus services.
Although most people live in apartments, there are lots of local children’s playgrounds and small manicured public gardens. Most of the back streets are quiet and have many local shops that people walk to. Many people ride bikes to stations and park them in dedicated, secure parking areas.
Inner Tokyo real estate is expensive, but outer Tokyo’s isn’t. Outer rents aren’t excessive. Nor is there a housing crisis. We could learn a lot from Tokyo’s way of doing things.
Mark Freeman, Macleod

Slap in the face
Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek has just approved a new coal mine (″⁣Plibersek greenlights new coal mine for first time, sparking fossil fuel backlash″⁣, 12/5). Plibersek should remember that one of the primary reasons for the election of the Labor government was a belief that it would take climate change seriously.
This decision, along with the pathetic petroleum resource rent tax decision, is a slap in the face to voters who hoped this government would not be as subservient to the fossil fuel industry as the previous government.
Ross Hudson, Mount Martha

How’s that?
Now that we are to have the return of the SEC, perhaps it is time for the return of the State Housing Commission.
Geoff Richards, Emerald

Voicing a suggestion
Wouldn’t it be marvellous if a large majority of Australians voted to say, ″⁣We’re sorry for the terrible treatment you have received over the last couple of hundred years and we want you to have direct access to the executive of the government to ensure that the policies we think are good actually are beneficial. And we trust the government of the day to make any adaptations necessary, as they do every day on our behalf while running the country.″⁣
Pat Dowling, Elsternwick

Boo is on the other foot
It may be de rigueur to be outraged at everything, including those who boo at the AFL, but maybe the players should respond in a somewhat counter-intuitive way.
What would happen if the targeted players responded by saying it’s part of the drama, I feel respected, I enjoy that I am the focus of the attention and it motivates me to play even better. I doubt the booing would continue, and if it did, it doesn’t matter as the player is using it in a constructive way to enhance their performance. We need not understand the motives of the crowd, but it does date back to the Colosseum and I’d rather frustrated citizens turn up to a footy game and boo rather than take out their frustrations in life in other ways.
Geoffrey Stewart, Romsey

Cross this out
A cross word about the Quick crossword in Saturday’s Age. Shame on you, DS, for the clue “Brainless but attractive, woman”. Answer: ″⁣Bimbo.″⁣ Really, haven’t we moved past these outdated stereotypes?
Marie Howard, Kew

How to balance scales
The article on Xanana Gusmao’s call for Australia to make amends for its past poor treatment of his tiny, struggling country, Timor-Leste (12/5), raises an issue raised by many Third World countries.
After decades of exploitation by wealthy countries, many poor nations like Timor-Leste believe it is time that they were able to cash in on their oil and gas reserves.
Unfortunately, this comes when the world’s climate scientists are calling for an end to fossil fuels. This poses a dilemma for those wanting economic justice for poorer countries but also supporting the cessation of the exploitation of coal, oil and gas.
Just as in some countries farmers are paid not to produce crops to avoid gluts, maybe there needs to be a worldwide fund to pay countries to leave their fossil fuels in the ground.
Timor-Leste has been poorly treated by Australia and there needs to be redress. However, it is not the right time to use gas as an economic boost.
Graeme Lechte, Brunswick West

Conquer and fall
It is rare to hear mention of how biodiversity can be sustained in the face of continued increase in the human population. Humans need land and take what they want, while animals adapt or die, and short of natural or man-made disaster, there seems little likelihood of change in that pattern.
Barry Clarris, Ringwood East

Power surge
Your correspondent (Letters, 12/5) says criticism of Labor’s budget as being too timid misses the point that ″⁣you’ve got to be re-elected to do long-term good for the country″⁣. This can be argued adinfinitum so that nothing much ever gets really achieved – except the retention of power.
Peter Drum, Coburg

Tombs with a view
No room at the forever inn? (″⁣Councils get dead serious about grave space″⁣, 13/5). Come to ours – San Remo’s tranquil cemetery has capacity for the next 300 years. And, if you book early enough, you might even get a sea view.
Jane Ross,
Friends of San Remo Cemetery


If John Pesutto thinks his party is at a turning point (13/5 ), methinks they’re heading into a cul-de-sac .
David Cayzer, Clifton Hill

Moira Deeming, I hear the DLP moniker is available for a new party – Defacto Liberal Party.
Tom Stafford, Wheelers Hill

Lately we have had a lot of MPs or party members “speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal party matters”. Why don’t they own up or shut up?
Bob Stensholt, Glen Iris

A bigger stadium will not make Tasmania a bigger island. Smaller is often better.
Ann Young, Chirnside Park

Richmond supporters booed Geelong’s Tom Stewart on Friday night, that must be racism I guess?
Phil Bodel, Ocean Grove

Please, please, could your experts select Richmond over Essendon next Saturday.
Paul Flowers, Alma

Dementia is an insidious disease with no cure. On diagnosis, allow sufferers to sign a legal document, witnessed by their doctor and a JP, requesting euthanasia.
Merryn Boan, Brighton

The mirror Donald Trump is (unwittingly) holding up to Americans is approaching the size of a satellite dish.
Bernd Rieve, Brighton

Arguing immigration numbers without acknowledging that people also die at predictable rates is nonsense. It is net increase that matters, not just the growth half of the equation.
Bill Cleveland, Kew

What extraordinary women Chrissie Foster and her daughter Aimee are (Good Weekend, 13/5). More power to them both.
Jane Ross, San Remo

Maybe we should just ignore the neo-Nazis next time they have a rally. Don’t give them any exposure and maybe they will just go away.
Dean Virgin, Strathmore

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