David Ross Patient

David Patient

David Ross Patient, who has lived with HIV for more than 30 years, shares his story:
USA 1980’s.
Peter had made an agreement with his life partner Joe and myself, that when things got too rough, we’d help Peter end his life. He was in the advanced stages of AIDS and the clock was ticking. He was bed-ridden and daily losing his faculties, like being able to feed himself, or even brush his own teeth, was catheterised and had to wear diapers [nappies]. Peter and Joe had both witnessed their fair share of the dying process to know that it is anything but what we see portrayed in Hollywood movies. It’s is messy, scary and there is no dignity. Both had been around AIDS for many years and knew, first-hand, the appalling deaths suffered. Peter wanted no part of it. Peter wanted to control the end of his life and not be at the mercy of nature or some God/s.

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Death be not proud… by Walter Pike

Prof Mike Sathekge looking on
Being posted under the gamma camera, Prof Mike Sathekge looking on. Image by Masi Losi

Our own death is a pretty abstract concept, or it is for most of our lives. We don’t think about death much until we reach the end of our natural span and then we are conditioned to acceptance slowly as we lose our physical and mental capacity and the spring in the clockwork mechanism that drives us loses its temper. When our life is swiftly and prematurely extinguished we engage with death even less. In war, road accident, drowning or murder we are present and vital at one moment and the next we are no longer, with little or no time to think.

I have castrate resistant metastastic prostate cancer (mCRPC). It’s a terminal diagnosis, one I received only a few months ago. The data shows I face a median survival of 18 to 24 months. Androgen deprivation therapy no longer works and chemotherapy offers an extremely limited extension to that time, then after that there is nothing left. Prostate cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer and the third biggest cause of cancer related deaths of men. My mets (metastases) are in my lymph, the bones of my spine, ribs and hips and in spite of both internal and external radiation it has also regenerated in my nuked prostate.

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Dying with Dignity – by Jacques Rousseau

Words associated with euthanasia

Yesterday, a strange collection of people received an unusual email. It was a suicide note from a man we knew to varying degrees, sent to people with whom he’d formed a connection over the years, whether via secular humanist activism (as in my case) or badminton, or something more intimate, like being family or close friends.

It was scheduled to be sent hours after he had taken his life, and included instructions regarding memorial services, burial and the like.

I didn’t know him well, so I’m not sad at his death in any personal fashion. I am however sad at how he had to die – alone, and with no certainty that his suffering would be alleviated, given that the medical support that should be available at times like these cannot be provided unless you can find a physician who is willing to break the law.

The decision to end one’s life should not be taken lightly, and I’m confident that it rarely is. We know we have obligations to friends and family, and he certainly knew this, saying:

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