Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Nancy pays the price for being elderly and female

By Michael Cook - posted Wednesday, 15 May 2002

Would Queensland grandmother Nancy Crick be asking for euthanasia if she were a man? Once an active, vital, healthy woman, Mrs Crick's bowel cancer has reduced her to a 27-kilogram shell. On a website chronicling her last days she says she has lost her will to live. She has persistent pain. Because her vomiting and diarrhoea make her ashamed to ask for lifts, she has cancelled most of her doctor's appointments.

Other than the phone, television and visitors, she complains, she is alone and shut off from the world in her home on the Gold Coast.

Her solution to loneliness, pain, inadequate nursing care and lack of GP house calls is to kill herself. She planned to do it on film in mid-April with a swig of a hard-to-get drug for putting animals down. Euthanasia campaigner Dr Philip Nitschke says it is "the best lethal drug in the world".


For a short time, then, this 70-year-old has become as famous and cosseted as Marilyn Monroe, another sad and lonely woman who took the same drug. Instead of sitting home alone waiting for visits from her grandchildren, she is addressing public meetings and setting up interviews with TV networks about her final days.

Nancy Crick is paying the ultimate price for being elderly, neglected and female. Her misery and inadequate nursing care fit into a neat pattern of victimisation of women - a victimisation in which they all too often meekly comply. When it comes to mercy killing, two-thirds of the killed are women and 70 per cent of the killers are men.

Last year, psychologist Silvia Sara Canetto, of Colorado State University, surveyed more than three decades of mercy-killing in the records of the Hemlock Society, a voluntary euthanasia group in the US. She found that most of the time, women ended up as victims.

"Many women do not have the resources, the sense of entitlement or the power and freedom to make the choice they desire, especially when they are sick or disabled," she says. Canetto says that the preponderance of women in mercy killing cases may be related to broader social patterns of devaluing women's lives.

For instance, the American Medical Association found in 1991 that women were less likely to receive critical, life-saving care, such as kidney transplants, than men.

An American hospice nurse, Nancy Valko, backed up Canetto's research with her own experience.


"When a man was dying, it was not unusual to see the wife and even ex-wives, as well as other family, at the bedside. In contrast, it was just about as common to see a dying woman who was divorced and alone," says Valko.

The problem may be that sick and disabled women feel more of a burden than do sick and disabled men because, for the first time in their lives, they are being cared for rather than providing the care-giving. It is this diminished sense of self-worth which leads them to ask for death.

But this may represent a veiled request to live, Canetto surmised. A woman may really be saying, "Do you care enough to want me alive and to be willing to share in my suffering?"

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

This article was first published in The Age, on 28 March 2002.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Michael Cook edits the Internet magazine MercatorNet and the bioethics newsletter BioEdge.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Michael Cook
Related Links
Australiasian Bioethics
Article Tools
Comment Comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy