Caralise Trayes talks about The Final Choice
Caralise Trayes is a full-time mum and part-time freelance writer from Hibiscus Coast, Auckland. She has previously worked around 10 years with Fairfax Media based at The Rodney Times as the chief reporter – mainly focusing on emergency and local government rounds within the north Auckland region, breaking national headlines on Stuff.
Needing a break from the deadline-driven world, Caralise and husband Will travelled Europe and USA before re-settling back home and having two children. Caralise has picked up the odd freelance writing job to help with ‘nappy funds’, but this is her debut book; a mammoth task on a short deadline.
Usually, you can find her at a local playground with her kids, or might spot her ducking out for a quiet coffee at a cafe for a little ‘me’ time. Caralise talks to NZ Booklovers.
Where did this start for you? Like most good adventures – it started with good friends and curiosity. I got a call to do a freelance writing job last year, and as part of the task I attended a meeting where assisted dying was discussed. I came away realising I knew very little about the issue – I knew we would all have to vote on it in a binding referendum at elections, but little else. So I threw myself into reading about it... but the more I read, the more questions I had. After talking to a friend about what I was learning, they suggested I consider turning my journey into a ‘book of discovery’. So that’s what I did.
I’ve worked as a journalist for nearly 10 years with Fairfax Media, so I applied the journalistic approach in this hunt for truth; interviewing more than 20 people who have direct involvement in the issue on both sides of the debate.
What inspired you to write this book?
Early on in the learning process I became very aware of the enormity of the question we will be facing in the binding referendum at this year’s election. Lawyers, doctors, and ethicists agree – this is a big decision. Margo Somerville, a Professor and ethicist from Australia I interviewed, says this is the most important values decision of the 21st Century.
I also realised how very little most of us know about the subject of the End Of Life Choice Act, or even assisted dying. Polling by Curia Market Research in 2017 and 2019 revealed while the majority of Kiwis support the concept of assisted dying, 74 per cent of people thought the EOLC Act would make it legal to turn off life support. This is already legal. And 75 per cent thought the Act would make euthanasia available only as a last resort to terminally ill people, after all treatments had been tried... this isn’t accurate; there’s no condition that all treatments must be tried. Most of us don’t even know the difference between euthanasia and assisted suicide, which will both become legal if we vote ‘yes’. We can’t just take a punt or follow a hunch on a decision that involves life and death... we have to do some homework. I wanted to make a way where ordinary Kiwis could get informed, meet some of the people directly involved, and come to their own conclusion after hearing from an array of educated voices.
What research was involved? How did you select the people you interviewed for the book? There was plenty of reading and late night documentary watching, but if there’s one I learnt while working in the community as a journalist – people are the best resource. So it’s people I pursued to pose questions to. I chose who to interview by sifting through the Justice Select Committee submissions received when the EOLC Act was before Parliament. These are people who have enough vested interest to lodge their comment.
From among them were specialists and ethicists, those who are terminally ill and positively well, passionate advocates and their opposites – including David Seymour MP, Shirley Seales (mother of the late Lecretia Seales), and Mary Panko of the End-of-Life Choice Society, as well as influencer and disabilities advocate Claire Freeman, palliative care expert Professor Roderick MacLeod MNZM and Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoreiro MNZM. We truly have remarkable and passionate people within the fabric of our society.
What was your routine or process when writing The Final Choice?
It was full throttle through the whole process - I didn't have long to get all the interviews done and the book prepared so people could read it before the elections. At the start I took the plunge into the topic by spending hours reading and researching from my home office. That's when I came across a number of people and organisations engaged in this issue. My first interviewees were from both ends of the spectrum and they helped me gain a good understanding of key points. I locked in interviews and filled my calendar, at least one interview a day, some in person, some on the phone or online. And I ensured a couple of hours immediately after the interview booked out for drafting the manuscript and starting a draft edit of the chapter. I also forced myself to stop twice a day and reflect on where I was at with what I was learning. This helped me be aware of my own personal thoughts - great to include some in the book, and also helpful to keep my approach analytical. The overall structure of the book started to take shape near the end - I realised I had groups of people that I could place together to form sections. And I had interviews that were more personal stories. It came together beautifully.
What do you hope people will take away after reading the book? Firstly, a good read. I myself couldn’t sit and write a book about death if it was heavy, sombre or boring. So I’m really pleased with the outcome of this book - it’s interesting, thought-provoking, tender, at times humorous and filled with good stories about people. Ultimately my hope is that readers will come away with more information and a much better understanding around both the EOLC Act and the issues surrounding assisted dying.
How difficult was it to write a book on a topic that can be uncomfortable for many?
At times it was definitely difficult and uncomfortable... but more commonly - I was in awe and surprise. I was constantly astonished at what people were sharing. Both their stories and experiences - doctors' stories of people they treated, facts and information from what other jurisdictions internationally that have legalised this were experiencing, stories from people with terminal illness or disabilities... To my surprise, I found it an incredibly freeing experience - we all have fear about dying and death; addressing some of that fear and getting good information can deal to that.
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
The Hairy Mclairy series... read about a hundred times. I'm afraid my regular reading has become the books thrust into my hands by my two kids all day. They love books, and I love getting a good cuddle and entertaining their imaginations. My three-year-old son can recite most of the books; it's impressive.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
Well, as any parent knows; parenting is a job that never stops, so, immediately, I get to go back to being a full time mum. But I'm also organising a book tour, and as a freelance writer you never really know what’s around the corner. At least I know what to vote in the binding referendum... can tick that off the list.