Who am I to be talking to you about a subject as complex as assisted dying? I have no medical qualifications – just two Logie nominations – so what would I know?
It’s true, I have no expertise … other than the expertise many of us share: I saw someone I love die badly.
My dad, Kit, used to joke that he wanted to go by walking into the shallow end of an Olympic-sized pool filled with single malt whisky, and just keep walking. Sadly, that never happened.
Watching him die remains the most profoundly shocking experience of my life.
He was 67, and though clearly dying of heart failure, and obviously in great pain, dad was assisted to die in the only way that Australia’s law then (and now) would allow: he was given ever-increasing doses of sedatives to settle the pain.
But morphine never did settle the pain. The images of those final three days will never be erased.
That was 18 years ago. In the years since, whenever I’ve talked about it, I’ve been struck by how many respond with similar stories about people they love dying slowly, in pain – and, seemingly, beyond medical help.
Every time I hear it, I think, ‘Surely we can do better than this?’
Then, a couple of years ago, I read an article by Tasmanian writer Margaretta Pos, describing the final days of her father, Hugo, who lived in the Netherlands.
People cling to life more fiercely than you could ever imagine. Remember that, because it’s important. People do not want to die.
Hugo, dying of cancer, had been granted the right to euthanasia under Netherlands law. His last week was spent farewelling friends. His last night was with family, and Mozart, and with nothing left unsaid. He died peacefully and on his own terms.
That article set me thinking: why can’t we have a law for assisted dying in Australia? What’s stopping it?
So, eight months ago, I set off to try and answer those questions. In that time, I’ve spent hundreds of hours talking with nurses, doctors, politicians, lawyers, academics, priests, surgeons, palliative care specialists and activists on both sides of the debate, both here and overseas.
Above all, I’ve spent time with those who embody the need for this law in Australia: the dying and their families.
Along the way, I’ve discovered two immutable truths. One …
• Anonymous in Comments: … For 3 days I sat there, the most despairing days of my life. It has been a long, long time, since I have wept as I am weeping now. If one had let a dog die in such a manner, and not called the Vet to administer a humane ending, they would have be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the Law and villified by the world.