Nearly a month ago Anna Corry was given just days to live. The 50-year-old former nursing educator has endured an aggressive type of breast cancer since her diagnosis in January last year.
This January she and her husband Martin and their sons Michael, 17, Dominic, 14, and Andrew, 11, received the news that although chemotherapy had shrunk the 10cm tumour near her heart, the cancer had spread through her body. Apart from a miracle, there is no hope for a cure.
The parishioner of St Bernadette’s, Castle Hill, wants to share her thoughts on euthanasia and assisted suicide – as a voluntary assisted dying law comes into force in Victoria next year, and a parliamentary committee investigates the issue in Western Australia.
She is opposed to both and believes opting to shorten her own life would have robbed herself, and her family and friends of “an incredible amount of joy” over recent weeks. Some say that churches should stay out of the debate around dying and the law, but Anna says she has discovered through her own experience arguments against legalising euthanasia which are quite apart from her Catholic faith.
“[People who use euthanasia] are potentially robbing friends and family of beautiful acts of kindness and service which bring them much joy,” she says.
“Mine wouldn’t have had that if I had perhaps 12 or even six months ago committed suicide through the act of euthanasia.
“If I had told my children I was potentially looking at euthanasia they would feel robbed of a mother for weeks or months that they could have had, and it could have created a lot of anger within them. And if there were a cure discovered [shortly afterwards] imagine how the family would feel. That would be an incredible amount of suffering for them.”
She has left her home in Cherrybrook in Sydney’s north-west for a bright and spacious room at Neringah Hospital in Wahroonga, a palliative care facility, where she receives many visitors, including friends who come to pray with her each day. She understands the fear of a terminal disease’s progression, including the loss of independence and physical discomfort.
“A diagnosis of a terminal illness can be an enormous strain of stress and fear on a person and the family,” she says. But there is no reason to fear unbearable pain at the end of life.
“Every type of pain can be addressed, and I’ve witnessed that myself. I can’t understand why people aren’t instructed that the pain relief available is totally adequate.”
Anna believes a desire for euthanasia can sometimes indicate a lack of healthy self-love.
“A lot of people don’t feel they deserve to have their family look after them. I’ve heard that a lot of people who want to euthanase don’t want to burden their family, they feel lonely, they are disconnected from their family.
“It’s more about emotional pain in my view, not so much physical pain.”
Her own 14-month journey has included intense “peaks and troughs” physically and spiritually. And she has had to work through anger, anxiety, and heartbreak at having to leave her children.
But she has also been grateful for her disease which she says has taught her the value of friendship and generosity, a deeper appreciation of time, and enriched her marriage.
“I didn’t know that a marriage could be so happy until now,” she says. “It’s given my husband an opportunity to serve me in a way that he’s never ever done before, and we love each other now more than ever. It’s a very deep love, it’s a very personal love and I guess it’s a little bit fearful because we won’t be with each other, or at least communicating with each other in a human sense.
“[Though] we will through prayer.”
Hundreds of Anna’s friends and family have been praying for a physical cure as well as a spiritual cure of being able to accept whatever God’s will is for her. She said the second request has been granted.
“Just before I came into [this] hospital I started to trust Our Lord and I started to feel a peace and joy that I’ve never felt before, and an acceptance of His will,” she says.
Recently Martin rented a kiosk on the hospital’s leafy grounds for a lively gathering of around 70 of their family and friends. It was a great day. Anna says the happiest days of her life include her graduation from university, her wedding day, and precious times with her children.
“But some of my days in here are equivalent to the happiest days of my life.”
Update: Anna died on Holy Thursday, 29 March, 2018. Eternal rest grant to her O Lord…