Time to get real about dying

Victoria’s voluntary assisted dying legislation came in to effect on 19 June, meaning terminally ill Victorians can now legally ask their doctor for lethal drugs to end their suffering.

To qualify, Victorian adults in intolerable pain and with less than six months to live – or 12 months for those with neurodegenerative diseases – and who meet 68 safeguards, can request their doctor’s help to die. Patients must be able to communicate a decision through a formal request process, have been living in Victoria for at least a year, and be an Australian citizen or permanent resident. The process takes at least 10 days to be completed.

The Government anticipates that up to 150 people a year will seek voluntary euthanasia.

There is much support for the law. When the legislation first passed the Victorian State Government Upper House, YourLifeChoices asked its members how they felt about voluntary assisted dying and whether it should be available nationwide.

A staggering 85 per cent of the 1849 respondents said yes, every state and territory should have such laws, while 12 per cent said no and only three per cent were undecided.

But even with all this support, critics remain.

On Sunday, we ran a short story from regular contributor Peter Leith, about an elderly woman who chose to end her life her way. Unfortunately, voluntary assisted dying wasn’t available to her.

While loosely based on a true story, her tale is not unique. Euthanasia campaigner Philip Nitschke claims that a growing number of older Australians are exploring processes of ‘rational suicide’ in order to control the timing and method of their death.

According to the former doctor, thousands are investigating ways to end their painful suffering. A growing number of people do not want to feel trapped in “end of life medical nightmares” when in hospital or a care home and unable to take their own life.

Mr Leith’s story was a confronting one – it was meant to be – but no less confronting than having to choose between a subhuman standard of living in your later years or having to consider ending your life without the support of a doctor, the government and, to a certain degree, society.

It certainly affected YourLifeChoices member, Mary*.

“Taking one’s own life is the saddest thing in the world. Working in the funeral industry for many years, you see more than your fair share of sadness, but to see the loved ones left behind is even worse and I am sure that if the person who has taken their life realised what it would do to families for the rest of their lives, they would not do it. I am sure of that,” she wrote.

“The pain on the family is nothing short of cruel. They cannot begin to see why their loved one has done it, but we always need to remember these people who do the unthinkable are not in a good place mentally or physically and have often not thought enough about the consequences of their actions. Maybe there is a place for euthanasia, but more is needed to educate the terminally ill on their need to be able to die with dignity and the love of their family left behind. Let’s face it, Australia needs to offer more help to this part of our community.”

Luckily for some, Victoria now provides dignified end-of-life support to its residents. Should the rest follow? Yes, says Herman*.

“Victoria has finally made progress for the terminally ill. Some of us are not terminally ill, but have little or no quality of life,” he wrote.

“Not being truly religious or spiritual, how much more secure could one enjoy tiny moments if given a choice to a dignified end? Some humans prefer to live in pain and misery, or loneliness just for the sake of being alive. But for heaven’s sake, it’s not for everyone!

“How cruel are religious leaders, politicians and other so-called experts who decide that only ‘God’ has the right to terminate your life?

“Not everyone believes in a caring, loving, compassionate God. Why in God’s name do I and many others have to jump off a cliff or step in front of a cement truck to die with dignity? Just imagine the mess and the trauma experienced by family and the cement truck driver?

“We don’t hesitate to send young women and men to conflicts (which have nothing to do with us or threaten our country’s security) to die or come back maimed. And the medical profession already kills so many patients by mistake or negligence. In palliative care, doctors often increase opiates and medicines to hasten a patient’s death. So, let’s end this horrendous suffering once and for all!”

Now that Victoria’s laws are active, we want your views on whether there should be similar laws in other states and territories plus other aspects of euthanasia.

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* Not their real names

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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