Laura Henkel will go to Switzerland to die on her own terms.
Laura Henkel will go to Switzerland to die on her own terms.

Ballina grandmother chooses 'dignified, graceful' death

A NORTHERN Rivers 90-year-old resident will leave Australia this week for Switzerland to fulfil her wish to die on her own terms.

Laura Henkel, who suffers pain and deep exhaustion every day, said she passionately believes she should be given autonomy over how and when she dies.

"I feel I have had enough and am quite ready to go," she said.

"I have a strong body and am likely to live for a long time, just getting more and more unable to care for myself.

"I cannot rely on some debilitating disease to carry me away, and going into an aged care facility to endure pain and suffering to the bitter end is not a future I choose for myself."

Mrs Henkel does not qualify for either Victoria's or the new Western Australian Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) laws, as she's not terminally ill.

She said she doesn't enjoy life anymore, her body is failing her, and the daily suffering will only continue to get worse.

"Old age doesn't have a cure - you can't mend it like a broken bone, so at the moment the only option for elderly people is to simply hope you don't have too much pain until at some point you die."

She said she has lived in Ballina for the last 10 years, and she lived in Lismore between 1995 and 2009.

Mrs Henkel likes the idea of "inviting people to a farewell do".

"Those close to you are given the opportunity to say a last farewell, create some final memories and hopefully get more closure for themselves."

Laura Henkel had a 'farewell do' on Saturday night at her home in Ballina, in the company of friends and her daughter Cathy and granddaughter Sam Lara.

She said she is doing this as much for them as for herself.

"This is a kinder way for all families to deal with the inevitable death of those closest to them," she explained.

She admitted she would rather have been able to do this in her home, instead of having to make the long 25-hour journey to Switzerland, accompanied by her daughter and her granddaughter, both filmmakers.

"I have asked Cathy and Sam to make a film about end-of-life choices and the limited options available by law to those who want it. It needs exposure by someone dedicated enough to the cause to stand up and proclaim it and I am prepared to do just that".

The documentary will be called Laura's Choice, and it will chronicle her three-year journey the last three years of her life.

Cathy Henkel said her mother's decision has not been easy to accept, for her or her daughter.

"But I have come to see that it is perhaps the kindest, most dignified and graceful way to farewell a parent, and I'm grateful for the chance to say goodbye in this way."

The three generations of women are flying out of Australia this Saturday. Their trip will culminate in Laura's death at a clinic in Basel, Switzerland, on December 19.


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