COVID took away options for this terminally ill woman’s assisted death. She's been left weighing up options at home

A final decision on whether or not Tasmania will pass voluntary assisted dying laws will be made in 2021 – for Janet Cohen, a resident of NSW living with a terminal diagnosis, it’s raised some difficult decisions.

Janet Cohen

Janet Cohen has been battling lung cancer since 2013 Source: Insight

Living with a terminal illness is like being in a dingy in a very stormy sea without a map or compass. You go through periods of incredible calm and quiet when the treatment seems to be working, and then the cancer will mutate and it’s back to find the next treatment option.

Often people aren’t sure what they can say to you. They’re very wary of upsetting you unnecessarily. Often you just want people to say, ‘are you okay?’

Crying is a natural part of it; being angry is a natural part of it – you just go through waves.

When I was diagnosed with in 2013, I was determined to have as much say in my treatment options as possible. I diligently researched everything from surgeries through to medication. So, when my cancer mutated and my diagnosis became terminal, it was a logical conclusion that I would look deeply at what end of life options I had available.

Sadly, in New South Wales where I live, there are none. Victoria is the only state in Australia with a functioning . Western Australia passed legislation in 2019, but that hasn’t yet come into effect. Moving to both of these states is not an option as I have no family or friends there.

Increased anxiety, stress and pain – that’s certainly not the kind of death that I want.
So, I applied for an assisted death in Switzerland and got the greenlight. Having that option available to me was very calming and re-assuring. Like anyone with a terminal diagnosis I’m very concerned about how the final stages of this illness will play out. Not the last moments, but potentially the last 6-months of my life. Increased anxiety, stress and pain – that’s certainly not the kind of death that I want.

But with international travel out of the question, COVID has locked the door on that option for now.

When I saw that Tasmania will make a decision in 2021 on whether or not to make voluntary assisted dying available, that filled me with a lot of hope. My partner and I have family and friends down there, and so moving to Tasmania is now an option we’re both considering.

Moving to another state is not ideal. Once the legislation is passed it takes usually about 12-18-months to be introduced. I don’t know how long I’m going to live – of course I’ll be trying to live as long as I can, but it may not be up to me.

I’ve lived on the mid-north coast of NSW for 25-years now. It’s a beautiful area surrounded by natural environment and a strong sense of community. Living here has allowed me to navigate life with a terminal illness better. I can spend my time being in nature; hiking, swimming and enjoying the beautiful natural environment.

Janet Cohen
Janet and her partner are considering a move to Tasmania. Source: Insight

I don’t want to move away – I shouldn’t have to. Who would want the last moments of their life to play out in a place that isn’t home?

And then what happens to my partner when I go? He’d be left there in a whole new environment, to establish a whole new network. It wouldn’t be fair on him.

Although I’m currently well, of course always hovering in the back of my mind is the uncertain future. There’s a lot of difficult decisions to weigh up that I shouldn’t have to. When will coronavirus not be a problem? Will I be well enough to go to Switzerland? Could I potentially move to Tasmania? How long is it going to take to introduce that bill? Those are the sorts of things that do run through my mind – and it’s not fun.

I should just be able to relax and get on with enjoying life knowing that an assisted death is an option to me here in New South Wales.

I don’t know whether I’ve gotten to a point of full acceptance of the fact that I’m going to die probably sooner rather than later. But an awareness of death has allowed me to have a better more accepting and peaceful life because I have had to confront it in a gentle way.

It can be extremely confronting talking about your own death, but I really feel like it’s an important thing to do. Who wouldn’t want to plan and prepare for a peaceful, beautiful death? I just want the ability to have that available to me if things go horribly wrong.

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5 min read
Published 11 January 2021 at 4:51pm
By As told to Jordan Osborne