Wodonga widow wants euthanasia made legal to ease suffering of the severely ill like her husband

Fighting for change: Susan Wragg at the grave of her husband Colin in Wodonga cemetery. She wants euthanasia legalised so those suffering have a legal option to end their lives without trepidation. Picture: MARK JESSER
Fighting for change: Susan Wragg at the grave of her husband Colin in Wodonga cemetery. She wants euthanasia legalised so those suffering have a legal option to end their lives without trepidation. Picture: MARK JESSER

THE widow of a Wodonga man who fatally overdosed after decades of pain says euthanasia laws are needed to let the severely sick “die humanely and quickly”.

Susan Wragg cared for her husband Colin, who suffered from a rare genetic auto-immune disease, and was with him when he died at home in 2015, aged 61.

She has told of her ordeal to coincide with Victorian politicians preparing to debate the government’s Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill.

Mr Wragg was on 50 tablets a day at the time of his death and largely housebound.

Mrs Wragg said her husband’s situation, which had been seen him go from crutches to electric wheelchair in her 11 years of knowing him, showed palliative care was not always the answer.

“Palliative care isn’t enough, there are people like Colin who palliative care will never be enough,” Mrs Wragg said.

“People are suffering terribly and no amount of medical intervention will help them.

“When people are in that much pain let them die humanely and quickly.

“At the moment people are having to starve themselves to death, it’s horrific and very painful.”

Mr Wragg was on a regimen of 50 tablets a day and needed a computer in his chest to keep his heart going.

A rare auto-immune disease had ravaged his frame over a long time.

“He had arthritis in just about every joint in his body,” Mrs Wragg said.

“He was on crutches when I first met him, then he went to a wheelie walker, then a wheelchair and then an electric wheelchair.

Plum job: Colin Wragg with Christmas puddings he boiled for the 2006 Christmas Day luncheon at St Stephen's in Wodonga.

Plum job: Colin Wragg with Christmas puddings he boiled for the 2006 Christmas Day luncheon at St Stephen's in Wodonga.

“He was in the category of a cancer patient, which means anybody who had a cold could not come in.

“Even though he didn’t have cancer, you had to look after him like he was a cancer patient because he was taking cancer drugs which suppressed his immune system.”

Mrs Wragg first met her future husband in 2004 at the St Stephen’s Uniting Church Christmas lunch, which was a passion for Mr Wragg who volunteered as chef.

On the day of the 2008 yuletide dinner, Mr Wragg told The Border Mail he would probably spend five days in bed recovering, but it was worth the trouble.

“To see all those people out there enjoying themselves – if we weren't doing this they'd be sitting at home, probably having a chicken sandwich or something, and feeling miserable," he said.

By that time Mrs Wragg has been tending to him for 2½ years, having known their relationship would not be a conventional romance.

“I had said ‘is this really what you want me to do God?’ and the obvious answer was yes and I became his carer and I didn’t have a current first aid certificate.”

The couple wed in 2010 with Mr Wragg’s ‘do not resuscitate order’ accepted earlier after he saw it as a potential “deal breaker”.

The agony of his existence was made plain in 2012.

“He wanted to cut his chest open and cut the wires (of his heart computer) as he was in so much pain and he wanted to die so badly,” Mrs Wragg said.

Memorable day: Susan and Colin Wragg at their wedding reception which was held at the Wodonga Masonic Centre, where he was a member.

Memorable day: Susan and Colin Wragg at their wedding reception which was held at the Wodonga Masonic Centre, where he was a member.

“The only thing that was keeping him going was that computer, otherwise he would have been dead a long time ago.”

Indeed in December 2007, the man who cooked at the opening of the Sydney Opera House in 1973 tried to end his life with enough Oxycontin to kill a bull elephant.

“He had 60 80 milligram tablets and he did not die,” Mrs Wragg said.

“His digestive system was so bad it didn’t kill him, he had so many ulcers in his bowel he did not absorb the drugs.”

But two years ago this month, Mr Wragg’s breaking point arrived.

He told his wife three weeks before his death he was contemplating suicide.

“I said ‘have you got a plan?’ and he said ‘yes’,” Mrs Wragg said.

“From that time, from when he said ‘yes’ I started mourning his death.”

Proud chef: Colin Wragg in 2007 with his Recipes for the Budget Conscious, compiled while he ran cooking classes at St Stephen's Uniting Church in Wodonga.

Proud chef: Colin Wragg in 2007 with his Recipes for the Budget Conscious, compiled while he ran cooking classes at St Stephen's Uniting Church in Wodonga.

At 9.40pm on Saturday September 26, while football fans were pondering a Hawthorn-West Coast grand final the following weekend, Mr Wragg acted.

“Colin and I were by ourselves (at home) and he came into the bedroom and he just said ‘I’ve taken the tablets’ and he got into bed and I held his hand and comforted him and told him I loved him,” Mrs Wragg said.

“Within 20 minutes he was unconscious but it took three hours for that poor tortured body to die and it was horrible.”

With tears flowing, Mrs Wragg told of the frustration of her beloved not being able to act legally to end his pain.

“It took three hours for him to die and it was horrible, if he was under medical supervision it would have taken minutes or seconds and it would have been pain-free,” she said.

Thirty minutes after phoning the ambulance service to report the death, Mrs Wragg had police in her living room.

“They told me I would probably go to jail and I looked at them and said ‘you want to send me to jail for comforting my husband while he was dying’ and they said ‘the law says…..”

For 12 months Mrs Wragg had a coronial probe to fret over, with the overdose finding delivered on the anniversary of Mr Wragg’s death.

Now Mrs Wragg is lobbying for legalised euthanasia, saying those in pain should not have to attempt suicide and risk unforeseen damage.

Nor does she believe they should be forced to say goodbye in secret, with their relatives fearing prosecution.

“Colin didn’t want to be alone, he asked me to stay, that’s all he wanted and I nearly got put in jail for it,” Mrs Wragg said.

“It’s just inhumane, it’s really medical torture.”

If you need help or information call Lifeline on 131 114

The Border Mail