‘A Great Country To Die In’

It was the most important conversation in Canberra yesterday, but you didn’t see it on the TV news or the front pages. Amid the budget blustering, a dying man spoke from his heart about humanity.

“Will dying with dignity take news precedent over endless budget drama? Yes, if humane issues matter,” he tweeted.

Fifty-seven year-old Peter Short has terminal cancer. Doctors sayhe has four months to live.

“I respect those who believe it is better to hold on until the very end, whatever suffering that entails. Both paths are dignified. What is undignified is not having the choice,” he says.

Now Short (pictured below) is on a mission to “make Australia not just a great country to live in, but a great country to die in also”.

Yesterday, he joined Greens Senator Richard Di Natale and Labor MP Alannah MacTiernan, who are co-sponsoring federal legislation to allow a terminally ill person access to drugs to end their life.

Ms MacTiernan says politicians have been ”far too timid” on this, despite polls showing more than 80 per cent of us support such legislation.

Under the proposal, the person would undergo a mental health assessment, with their condition verified by two medical practitioners.

”As a doctor, I’ve thought about this very carefully,” Senator Di Natale says. “My responsibility is to relieve people of pain and suffering and if that means choosing the timing of their death, then that’s something I’ve decided I should respect.”

This is something I feel very strongly about, after my mother died in agony from pancreatic cancer.  I almost put a pillow over her face to end her suffering.

Make no mistake: We will see more murders and suicides unless the law is changed.

Last week, 90-year-old Sheila Rushton and her 87-year-old husband Jeffrey were found dead in their home, in Albany, WA. He had severe Parkinson’s disease; she suffered from multiple sclerosis.

They had spoken with members of Exit International, the pro-euthanasia organisation founded by Dr. Phillip Nitschke. Sadly, it appears activists are being targetted by police. Rumours are rife of a ‘blacklist’ of the elderly and terminally ill.

This follows police raids on a dozen properties in Queensland, Western Australia, and South Australia, ending in the arrests of a 63-year-old woman and 68-year-old man accused of importing Nembutal.

“All the evidence points to a concerted campaign being waged by state police working in conjunction with Customs and the Australian Federal Police”, according to the head of the NSW branch of the Voluntary Euthanasia Party, Shayne Higson.

“These are vulnerable people who are already under enough stress without having the possibility of having five policeman banging on their door with search warrants.”

Victorian campaigner Dr. Rodney Syme is risking jail by admitting he provided Nembutal to cancer sufferer Steve Guest. Police are “reopening the file” into his death.

“If Victoria Police refuse to prosecute me… they must be asked why. If a law is “honoured more in the breach than the observance” then it is a bad law and needs to be changed,” he writes on The Drum.

In The Saturday Paper, Carolyn Lee expresses the decision, “almost too terrible to comprehend”, by her beloved husband Bill to discontinue his kidney dialysis.

“It was unseasonably cold, even for a capricious Melbourne summer. Before switching off the car engine, Bill turned to look at me. ‘It’s time for me to go,’ he said. Just like that.”

She is telling Bill’s story, “Because, as a society, we need to ensure our end-of-life practices do not violate the essential principles – that we claim to hold so dear – of autonomy and self-determination”.

There appears to be momentum for change.

As well as the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Estonia, Albania, Montana, Oregon and Washington, Quebec has just passed an Act, “respecting end-of-life care”.

This is significant, because 83 per cent of the population is Roman Catholic although in a secular society, religion shouldn’t be taken into consideration when formulating legislation, anyway.

Yesterday, Senator Di Natale yesterday moved for a Senate inquiry on his draft bill. He wants his colleagues to hear the personal stories of the terminally ill “who are facing the end of their lives and would be comforted just by having the option of doing so on their own terms”.

“Earlier today I co-hosted a morning tea where three terminally ill patients had the opportunity to make the case for reform to MPs from all sides of politics. I was inspired by the stories of those courageous individuals and encouraged by the support from representatives of the other parties.

“This is not a partisan issue. I hope to build a coalition of support across the parliament so that when the final legislation gets formally introduced in the parliament it has co-sponsors from all parties.”

Alanna MacTiernan called for wider discussion: ”We just need more of the population to get out there and say ‘this is an issue that really speaks to us and we want you to act on it, we want you to give us that choice’.”

This is what I want in TV news bulletins and on the front pages of our newspapers.

How about you?


You can find Peter Short’s petition here.

*Tracey Spicer is an Ambassador for Dying with Dignity.