“The big sleep”

Daughters reflect with compassion on their parents’ suicide plan

The daughters of an Australian couple who died in October in a suicide pact, have opened up about their parents’ plans and lives. Melbourne scientists Pat and Peter Shaw had been members of Exit International, a pro-euthanasia group run that teaches peaceful methods for people to end their own lives.

It wasn’t that the couple lacked vitality or pleasure — they “relished life,” engaging throughout their long lives in hiking, climbing and skiing as well as a love of classical music, literature, fine wine and robust conversation. They supported political and environmental movements. There is a mountain in Antarctica named for Peter Shaw, conquered in 1955 on a research expedition, for which he received a Polar Medal and was immortalized on a postage stamp.

But the Shaws did not want to endure the increasing troubles of old age, in particular their diminishing health. Instead, the elderly couple determined to instigate their end-of-life plans, informing their three daughters they had set October 27, 2015 — the day after Pat’s 87th birthday — to enter the “big sleep” together.

The story, which includes a video interview with daughter Anny, describes the couple’s last hours, and what did — and didn’t — go according to plan. Peter described himself in his suicide note as “sane, quite good-humoured, and not at all depressed”. Pat’s handwritten note was accompanied by the family’s Christmas pudding recipe, for her daughters.

All three daughters agree their parents should not have had to risk prosecution to die together at the time of their choosing, nor be alone for the legal protection of their family. “It shouldn’t be so difficult for rational people to make this decision,” daughter Kate said.

Read the full story at The Sydney Morning Herald.

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