Are we happy for the elderly to sleep with a loaded firearm beneath their pillow?
Although most would be disturbed by the thought, it is how certain elderly Australians live today. It is not so much a firearm, but a lethal drug, usually Nembutal, that some Australians have secured through illegal means for the explicit purpose of ending their life at a time of their choosing.
They are the lucky ones.
Those who are not as well informed or do not have the support of a sympathetic GP who is willing to risk deregistration or even imprisonment to help them die in a safe and peaceful manner default to violent means.
If you want an insight into how certain elderly die, take a look at the reports produced by the coroner. In these reports you will read of how octogenarians kill themselves at a rate of two per week, usually by tying a noose around their neck, taking a broken glass to their throat, ingesting a stockpile of prescribed drugs, or succumbing to poisonous fumes, when faced with the prospect of going to a aged care facility.
This grim reality is reflected in the Australian Bureau of Statistic suicide data, which shows men aged 85 and older suicide at the rate of almost 40 in every 100,000, partly due to terminal and incurable illnesses.
My grandfather was in his 80s when he died. I have vivid memories of him retiring to the sunroom of our Californian bungalow with gun case in hand, placing it at his feet, removing the numerous components, clicking them into place, and proceeding to check that his shotgun was in fine working order.
This ritualistic upkeep continued until confusion, muddled thoughts, and a dead left arm brought on by a stroke made it increasing difficult for him to do so.
One evening at the dinner table, he confided to the family that he had spent all day trying to assemble his shotgun without luck. Sensing his frustration, I offered to help. My father remained silent.
A few months later, I overheard my dad telling a family friend that he had secretly removed the fore-stock from the gun case, rendering the shotgun useless.
“You just don’t know what the old man is likely to do in his desperate state,” said my dad.
My grandfather died peacefully years later in hospital 2 days after he suffered his second stroke.
He was one of the lucky ones.
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