An Undignified Death

Ethel and Henry

A journey around my mother

By Roger Childs

Back in 1981 my older brother and I used to alternate in taking the rail car to Napier. We went up to the Hawke’s Bay to see our mother Ethel and support father Henry.

Ethel was in Napier Hospital and was not coming out. These were the days before sophistication scans and she had been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour.

So there she was in a hospital bed with her life ebbing away and without her dignity and self respect.

A long wait to die

We always remembered her as a bubbly, busy and dynamic lady who would do anything for anybody. Now when we visited her she was propped up in the bed, incontinent and uncomfortable, and unable to speak or recognise anyone.

We would hold her hand and talk to her, but this was definitely not a case of where’s there’s life there’s hope. There was very little life and she was wasting away. Mum clearly wanted to quietly pass on.

Week after week we made the rail trip from Wellington and my younger brother also regularly came down from Auckland.

The orange juice

Dad managed brilliantly. He would visit Ethel morning, afternoon and evening. Early in the day he would pick an orange from the prolific tree in the garden, squeeze the juice and walk the 400m to the hospital.

The citrus drink was one of the few things Ethel could keep down, but she never seemed to  recognise who had brought it.

One morning Henry picked the last orange from the tree, squeezed the juice and delivered the glass to Ethel. This time he recalled that there was a flicker of recognition.

That afternoon Mum died.

(You can make a submission on the End of Life Choice Bill. You have just read mine. If you want to post your viewpoint, send to: Andy Gardner Committee Secretariat, Justice Committee, Parliament Buildings, Wellington 6160.

For more detail on the bill and the submission process, scroll down to January 12 and read Ann David’s excellent article.)




Thank you for making a submission, Roger.

Loss of dignity, loss of self-respect are not to be countenanced lightly. To rob an adult person of these aspects of their humanity that give life meaning to them is an unforgivable cruelty and an extreme abuse of power.