Euthanasia, or voluntary assisted dying laws, must not be considered a solution for a person with an eating disorder. I will proceed to explain my position on this life and death issue.
Instead of death as a solution for people with eating disorders, I urge us all to focus on hope, faith, trust, life quality, freedom, independence, peace. Let’s remember that although eating disorders have extremely high death rates and cause often intolerable suffering, they are not a terminal illness. They are a treatable illness.
The trouble when you have an eating disorder is that it wants you to die. For it, death is an ultimate win. We must take a stand, fight and neutralise this illness! Every person I know whose eating disorder led them to beg for death, is grateful that people around them rallied at that critical point, took control of their safety and their life when their illness rendered them unable to do so, until they were sufficiently self-restored and could resume control themselves.
It is of deep concern in the eating disorder field that in some parts of our world, medical practices are moving closer to helping people die when they want to. And for this to extend to people with eating disorders, would be tragic.
It is getting close to home.
On June 19 this year, my home state of Victoria became the first state in Australia to join few countries in the world to pass voluntary assisted dying laws. The Voluntary Assisted Dying Act (2017) claims to provide a safe legal framework for people who are suffering and dying to choose the manner and timing of their death.
The government website describing the process for accessing voluntary assisted dying in Victoria states this process is the safest and most conservative in the world.
Mental illness or disability alone are not grounds for access to voluntary assisted dying, but people who meet all other criteria, and who have a disability or mental illness, will not be denied access to voluntary assisted dying.
Given a chance, I would have grabbed euthanasia
I find this legislation provision regarding mental illness deeply disturbing. A person with an eating disorder often has co-morbid challenges. Besides anorexia nervosa, I had chronic anxiety and depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and ongoing physical challenges from serious road trauma. Many a time, in my 20s and 30s, I wanted to die and If I had been able to choose euthanasia, I would have grabbed it.
My eating disorder of more than 20 years at the time had taken a lot, including my family of origin and my marriage, and it would have presented many plausible reasons to doctors on why it should complete its progressive destruction and take my life too. When an eating disorder is running riot in our brain, death can beckon as the only way out of the dark, relentless, tormenting, torturing, nightmare.
We must not allow this to happen.
We need to focus on life and living
Eating disorders are a treatable illness.
Recovery is possible at every age
We know today that recovery is not confined to the young – that we can recover at every age from an eating disorder. I was not expected to recover – yet at 55 I broke free from the anorexia nervosa that developed in my brain at age 11.
I am eternally grateful to the health professionals who kept their doors open and encouraged perseverance, even when they had no understanding of my illness or any idea of how to ease my pain. They treated me with respect, patience and gentle encouragement. They always instilled hope and trust. Gradually, bit by bit, the eating disorder’s ironclad hold and dominance was weakened.
In the 13 years since becoming more ‘healthy me’ than ‘eating disorder’, and being free to eat my three meals and three snacks daily, I have written 10 books, completed a Ph.D., enjoyed countless happy family times with my four children and their dad, become a grandmother to five gorgeous children, ‘mother’ to two delightful cats and English Staffordshire puppy, and delight in mentoring and helping people tell their stories through narrative writing.
Decades of incarceration are not forgotten. Of course they have scarred, shaped and influenced my life. Some losses cannot be retrieved. Some pain, especially with the relationship loss, is ongoing. However, I focus on the joy of life. And life is beautiful.
The bottom line
My bottom line is that I am glad I did not succeed at attempts to end my life. Likewise, every person I have met who has attempted to end their life, is grateful they did not succeed. Because while there is life, there is hope, and we all come to discover that indeed, life IS beautiful and bountiful.
Likewise, every family I speak with, who has lost a family member who has taken their own life due to the complications of their eating disorder, has a sorrow that won’t go away. For their child, sadly, there is no hope, no chance of beautiful life. Often these bereaved families find comfort in helping to give hope to other families, other children, with the same illness. Urging them to hold onto hope. Onto life. Because the loss of one life to an eating disorder, is the loss of one life too many.
F.E.A.S.T. Statement on Euthanasia and Eating Disorders
Which brings me to families of people with the illness – these families need more support too. An eating disorder is described as a family illness and ideally the entire family is involved in the recovery process. Together, and collaboratively with health professionals, we can confront the difficult issues surrounding eating disorders, not only in our homes but in our communities and the wider world.
As a member of the F.E.A.S.T. Advisory Panel, I applaud the FEAST Statement issued this week on Euthanasia and Eating Disorders. I encourage you to join discussion with to be discussed live with F.E.A.S.T. on Facebook on July 11.