Letters to
the editor

Talking about death and dying

Jane Caro’s empathic article (“The living end”, December 10-16) recounts four tragic end-of-life stories – they are recurring themes in my 25 years of counselling. In two the doctor responded appropriately (to a point), and in two badly. Although two ended “well” (with a prompt, painless death), they are all characterised by a tragic lack of communication, which led to excessive guilt and grief on the part of the relatives. This is commonly avoidable with good communication, but such communication is inhibited by opaque law and lack of knowledge of what is actually “legally” possible. Caro is right – we don’t talk about death and dying – I have talked openly about such matters, and as a result have endured at least 10 police interviews and am in my fourth investigation by the Medical Board of Australia. All of the latter have been as a result of vexatious and egregious complaints – none as a result of a patient or their relative. Our current laws inhibit communication and compassionate acts, force doctors and patients into covert behaviour, and leave behind damaged relatives. The recent Parliament of Victoria Inquiry into End of Life Choices found that “the existing end of life legal framework ... is untenable”, and that “the current legal framework is not serving Victorians well”. Jane Caro’s report only confirms these conclusions.

– Dr Rodney Syme, Toorak, Vic


Relative measures

I certainly agree with Jane Caro’s summary that our way of death is “cowardly, hypocritical and cruel”. As a former GP for 35 years with a mainly geriatric practice, I found that the next of kin and the hospital doctors were the ones who felt that maximum effort should be expended in keeping the older generation alive.

Usually the relatives had abrogated responsibility by putting grandma in a nursing home or hostel, then proceeded to be critical of nursing staff if anything went wrong. I suspect this is a way of keeping one generation between them and death. A minority of relatives was better than that.

– Michael Tayar, Abbotsford, NSW

Vale Georgia Blain

How sad to hear of the death of Georgia Blain whose descriptions of her illness in The Saturday Paper (“The Unwelcome Guest”) were so moving. Together with her own struggle and that of caring for her mother, Anne Deveson, she brought so many important “end of life” issues to the fore. Vale to two brave souls.

– Vicky Marquis, Glebe, NSW

Green Army’s work not finished

Regarding the Green Army (Mike Seccombe, “The Green Army’s final battleground”, December 10-16), Labor’s environmental spokesman, Tony Burke, nailed it when he answered his own question: “But was it better than nothing? It’s a low benchmark, but it was. It’s hard to see its abolition as anything but a big step backwards, given there is nothing being put in its place.” Our local Landcare group hosted a Green Army team a few weeks ago. They planted 80 trees then moved to the village to weed a large tract beside the railway shed. They worked quickly and effectively, indicating they had acquired some skills at least. They failed to return to remove young willows from the creek, however, the team having been disbanded. It possibly illustrates the uneven nature of the Green Army operations. What is sad about the program’s demise is the loss of structure it provided for so many young people. A number of them came from troubled backgrounds, and getting out to plant trees in the company of other young people was better than watching TV alone in a dingy flat in an outlying town, the only places rents are affordable. All members of our team longed to live in Canberra but couldn’t afford to without a decent job. The Green Army wasn’t a decent job in monetary terms but at least it gave them a leg up to one. As Burke says, “There is nothing being put in its place.” This is the tragedy. The government saved $350 million by axing the Green Army and gave $100 million of it to Landcare. That left $250 million. Is it really beyond our collective capacity to put that towards a scheme that will train young people effectively in natural resource management and give them a living wage? We Landcarers are largely retired and would like to tap some of youth’s energy and strength.

– Jenny Goldie, Michelago, NSW

No long-term goals

Thank you, Mike Seccombe, for exposing the charade that is the Green Army. Their efforts will not last more than a year or two due to an absence of ongoing maintenance. Tree planting and weed control works take a minimum of five years of dedicated effort to achieve sustainable benefits. That is something Landcare has always acknowledged but those responsible for the Green Army never considered.

– Martin Smith, Fernbrook, NSW

Alternatives for celebration

There are a couple of other options for an “Australia Day” (Editorial, “The date is changing”, December 10-16). The Commonwealth of Australia was proclaimed by Queen Victoria on September 17, 1900. It’s spring, a time of rebirth, and close to the vernal equinox. In some states Labour Day would have to be moved, to say January 26. On March 3, 1986, after years of fraught and protracted negotiation, the states, the Commonwealth and the British parliaments jointly passed the Australia Act passing full control of all Australian constitutional documents into Australian hands. (Hands up those who knew that?) Those states that celebrate Labour Day around that date could transfer the holiday to, say, January 26. I lean towards March 3 myself. The weather’s usually better.

– John Mosig, Kew, Vic

Letters are welcome: [email protected]
Please include your full name and address and a daytime telephone number. Letters may be edited for length and content, and may be published in print and online. Letters should not exceed 150 words.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on December 17, 2016.

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