By Janet McIntyre
Think about the most difficult conversation you could have with your parents. Claire Freeman is having it right now with her dad and our cameras are rolling.
“I feel like I haven’t been a particularly good role model Dad.”
Claire is in a wheel chair after becoming a tetraplegic when she was 17. She’s made numerous attempts on her life and even made arrangements to go to Switzerland to be assisted to die, to the heartbreak of her family.
Now she’s trying to comfort her father Phill, a recent stroke victim who slurs his words and like his daughter, is unable to walk.
“It’s shitty right now, Dad, but it does get better.”
Claire tells us she’s worried. “He, I suspect, will take his life after three months. My only hope is that I can convince him that life is actually worth living.”
It’s an extraordinary statement from the 41-year-old who admits her own survival is a miracle. Only now she says, 24 years after the car crash that paralysed her, has she come to terms with her grief.
Decades of trying to live a “normal” life have brought her to acceptance. “I’m actually okay with not being okay.”
With her unique life experience she’s joining the debate about assisted dying in New Zealand. But now she’s on the other side of the fence.
“I know of people who will die, I can’t let that happen.”
Claire and her dad, both chair-bound, try to embrace as they contemplate life and death. Phill supports the proposed End of Life Choice Bill, Claire opposes it.
Having given up on her own life so many times, she’s not prepared to give up on her Dad’s – or the lives of others she believes are at risk.
“There is huge scope for vulnerable people to make that choice but a lot of the time that choice is dictated by a lack of support or a feeling of being a burden because we just don’t have the supports in place right now.”
Claire squeezes her father’s hand. “I think you’re going to recover quite a lot more than you think.”
“I don’t know,” says Phill. “Maybe I will, maybe I won’t.”
* Watch the full story on Sunday, tonight on TVNZ1 at 7.30pm and then on TVNZ OnDemand.