Would Queensland grandmother Nancy Crick be asking for euthanasia if she were a man? Once an active, vital, healthy woman, Mrs Crick's bowel cancer has reduced her to a 27-kilogram shell. On a website chronicling her last days she says she has lost her will to live. She has persistent pain. Because her vomiting and diarrhoea make her
ashamed to ask for lifts, she has cancelled most of her doctor's appointments.
Other than the phone, television and visitors, she complains, she is alone and shut off from the world in her home on the Gold Coast.
Her solution to loneliness, pain, inadequate nursing care and lack of GP house calls is to kill herself. She planned to do it on film in mid-April with a swig of a hard-to-get drug for putting
animals down. Euthanasia campaigner Dr Philip Nitschke says it is "the best lethal drug in the world".
For a short time, then, this 70-year-old has become as famous and cosseted as Marilyn Monroe, another sad and lonely woman who took the same drug. Instead of sitting home alone waiting for
visits from her grandchildren, she is addressing public meetings and setting up interviews with TV networks about her final days.
Nancy Crick is paying the ultimate price for being elderly, neglected and female. Her misery and inadequate nursing care fit into a neat pattern of victimisation of women - a victimisation in
which they all too often meekly comply. When it comes to mercy killing, two-thirds of the killed are women and 70 per cent of the killers are men.
Last year, psychologist Silvia Sara Canetto, of Colorado State University, surveyed more than three decades of mercy-killing in the records of the Hemlock Society, a voluntary euthanasia group
in the US. She found that most of the time, women ended up as victims.
"Many women do not have the resources, the sense of entitlement or the power and freedom to make the choice they desire, especially when they are sick or disabled," she says. Canetto
says that the preponderance of women in mercy killing cases may be related to broader social patterns of devaluing women's lives.
For instance, the American Medical Association found in 1991 that women were less likely to receive critical, life-saving care, such as kidney transplants, than men.
An American hospice nurse, Nancy Valko, backed up Canetto's research with her own experience.
"When a man was dying, it was not unusual to see the wife and even ex-wives, as well as other family, at the bedside. In contrast, it was just about as common to see a dying woman who was
divorced and alone," says Valko.
The problem may be that sick and disabled women feel more of a burden than do sick and disabled men because, for the first time in their lives, they are being cared for rather than providing
the care-giving. It is this diminished sense of self-worth which leads them to ask for death.
But this may represent a veiled request to live, Canetto surmised. A woman may really be saying, "Do you care enough to want me alive and to be willing to share in my suffering?"