“It’s not something I tell everyone,” the 46-year-old from Port Elizabeth says. “But under certain circumstances I feel one should have the right to make this choice.”
Carol’s story recently came to light in the documentary movie Define: Living, made by students at the Afda film school in Johannesburg.
This mom of two was diagnosed with colon cancer nine years ago and the cancer has since spread to her liver and other parts of her body. Carol, formerly a personal assistant at a law firm, had to stop working last year.
In the documentary she describes how hard it was for her to hear that her cancer is terminal.
“My son recently told me, ‘You know the time we really knew was when you lost your hair,’ ” she says.
A first her partner struggled to comprehend when Carol told him her cancer had spread. “I asked him if he understands what I’m telling him. He said, ‘Yes, it has something to do with the cancer.’ That’s when I had to explain to him, ‘I’m terminal.’ He went white as a sheet.”
Carol says her parents in particular are having trouble coming to terms with the fact she wants to decide when to die.
“They don’t want me to suffer. They know that I’m a reasonably intelligent person and they’ll support my decision,” she says.
“It won’t be easy. But if they’re given the choice to see me suffer, in pain… And it’s about pain – a lot of it – but it’s also about dignity, because you get pain killers. It’s about the loss of dignity. The loss of me. And if they’re given these options they would happily support me.”
She says more than the pain, the loss of dignity is what bothers her. She doesn’t want to be bedridden, unable to care for herself or control herself. “That’s not the way I want to go.”
Assisted dying is still illegal in South Africa and Carol says she’s afraid proposed new laws won’t be passed in time to help her.
“Because for me that leaves us in a situation of pure hopelessness. Then my choices become very limited. Then I can continue my treatment and I waste away and become not me. Lying in a bed in agony. Not being able to take care of myself and all the horrible things it entails. Or ending it myself.”
But she doesn’t see suicide as a real option, since there’s no guarantee it will work. She also doesn’t want to have her children to deal with a failed suicide attempt or to have to clean up after her. She wants there to be “a way for me to end this which is certain, and calm and dignified”.
“I don’t want to die,” she says with conviction. “I’m already dying, but I just want to have the choice as to how and when I’m going to die.”
Carol’s plight regarding assisted death in South Africa is by no means the only one. Advocate Robin Stransham-Ford won a court case in April last year in which the court found any doctor who’d help him die wouldn’t be prosecuted. Sadly, he died mere hours before the court delivered its verdict.
The national health department appealed the case, which will be heard in the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein in November.
Assisted dying applicant dies peacefully