A ‘Short’ argument for Voluntary Euthanasia

Peter Short

Sign Peter Short’s petition here.

Peter Short has oesophageal cancer. His condition is terminal. He is going to die.

Peter wants to choose how and when he dies. He’s not particularly afraid of the pain – he knows that can probably be managed by morphine – but he doesn’t like the idea of losing his independence, of being bedridden,  or of the last memory he leaves being of ‘ a’ scarecrow in bed on a morphine tube’.

South Australian doctor, Rodney Syme, has offered to provide assistance to Peter when the time comes, but risks prosecution for doing so.

Syme has recently admitted to giving a terminal patient Nembutal to allow him to end his life.  In part, he has made the admission in order to test the law and with the hope of setting a positive precedent.

Peter accepts that choosing to die before one’s ‘allotted time’ is not a choice that sits well with everyone. He’s not even entirely sure it’s what he’ll decide to do. But he wants to have a choice. That, in itself, says Peter would significantly ease the burden on him and his family. Other people may choose differently. That’s the good thing about choice – it means your rights aren’t diminished by other people’s ideas of what is right or wrong for them.

In Oregon, where physicians are permitted to prescribe lethal medication for terminally ill patients who are deemed psychologically fit to make a rational decision, it’s become clear that giving patients choice has a powerfully, positive effect. Rather than encouraging patients to end their lives, the comfort of knowing they have control over their pain and their life seems to add to the quality of their remaining days. Knowing there is an ‘out’ seems to provide paitents with more strength to endure the pain and discomforts of their illness. Most patients don’t have their prescription filled. Of those who do, most never use it.

On the other hand, a terminally ill man on my Facebook page this week indicated that his ‘plan’ was to drive his car off a cliff before his condition becomes too bad. That ‘plan’ involves someone dying before they really need to, a great deal of trauma for his family and friends, the loss of a valuable asset (the car as well as the man!) to his family, not to mention the trauma, cost and inconvenience caused to those who have to retrieve the body and the wreckage!

A doctor told me that, after diagnosing a patient with a highly treatable form of bowel cancer, the man said, “Nah! I’m not doin’ with that!”, went home and shot himself in the head. One wonders if she had been able to assure him that, if at any time his condition was deemed terminal he would have the choice of palliative care or ending his life, peacefully at the time of his choosing, whether he may have lived and spared his wife the trauma of finding his dead body in the shed.

When people don’t get to choose to die with dignity, it doesn’t mean they calmly accept their fate.  Instead, they turn to other methods like hanging, shooting, or gassing themselves in their vehicles. Is this really acceptable to our politicians? Is granddad swinging from a rope in the shed what Christians want for our elderly? Because that’s what we’re getting under the current arrangements.

My argument is that we are not preventing deaths by refusing to legalise voluntary euthanasia – we are forcing people into premature and violent deaths.

“The choice,” said Peter Short in an interview with Michael Short on “The Zone“, “becomes incredibly powerful because whether or not I choose to avail myself of assistance from Rodney Syme in making that call is not really the important part of this conversation. The important thing to me is that I have come to realise that having that choice takes a burden off me, which is extremely palliative in its own right.”

70-85 per cent of Australians want the option to choose a dignified, medically assisted, death if they are diagnosed with a terminal disease. Claiming that right imposes no obligation on anyone else to make a similar choice.  Despite shameless propaganda from the Catholic Church and other religious anti-euthanasia groups, the checks and balances instituted in countries and jurisdictions where voluntary euthanasia is legal are effective; there is not a skerrick of evidence that the systems are being abused by murderous doctors, hypodermic-happy nurses or avaricious family members.

Groups like the Australian Christian Lobby do not represent the majority of Christians or their views on this matter. A poll conducted by The Australia Institute in 2011 showed 65 per cent support for the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia amongst Australian Christians. 73 per cent of older Christians support legislative change to allow them the choice to die with dignity. There is even a group, Christians supporting choice for voluntary euthanasia, headed by my friend Ian Wood, which represents Christians who support end-of-life choices.

It’s time for politicians to start listening to what the people of Australia want and looking at real research and evidence rather than the poppycock and lies being spouted by religious lobbyists.

Like many Australians, Peter Short is not a religious person. Why should the views of a minority of religious zealots restrict his end-of-life choices?  Why should a doctor who is prepared to help him have to do it at the risk of his reputation and freedom?

Peter wants the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia to provide him with the right to die at a time and manner of his own choosing. And he wants the legislation to be the legacy he leaves to the people of Australia.

Recently, Senator Richard Di Natale visited Peter and his family at their home. Senator Di Natale has asked Peter to travel to Canberra to speak in favour of a bill he’s introducing for medically assisted death for the terminally ill. Senator Di Natale is working to get bipartisan support for the bill.

What would make a real difference, says Peter,  would be  for him to be able to present a petition signed by a huge number of people showing they support legislation to legalise voluntary euthanasia.

You can find more information on Peter’s blog here:  pgs28.wordpress.com.

You can help by signing Peter’s petition and circulating the details via Facebook, Twitter and your other social networks and, if you have a blog, by blogging about it. Peter’s twitter address is @28Short.

Sign Peter Short’s petition here.

Chrys Stevenson


Related:  The Debate on Assisted Dying: Distortion, Misinformation and the Influence of the Religious Lobby – a speech by Chrys Stevenson  for the Dying with Dignity NSW AGM and conference, 24 March 2011

Activist dead wrong on voluntary euthanasia – Chrys Stevenson and Dr David Leaf, ABC’s Religion and Ethics, 18 October 2011


21 thoughts on “A ‘Short’ argument for Voluntary Euthanasia

  1. Louella

    Thanks Gladly. Excellent.
    I emailed this to my MHR who *still* isn’t on fb or twitter.

  2. The Watcher

    Of all the “faith” based ills that beset us this is up there with the worst. I want to choose the time and method of my passing. Thanks for bringing this to the front of the social consciousness once again.

  3. Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear: Assorted Rants on Religion, Science, Politics and Philosophy from a bear of very little brain Post author

    Disclosure: I have received a comment from Catholic anti-euthanasia campaigner, Yuri Koszarycz which I have decided not to publish.

    There are a number of reasons. Chiefly, it was a lazy cut and paste of an entire article from the Catholic International News Weekly “The Tablet”. Poor form, Yuri. My blog does not exist to provide a platform for Catholic propaganda. Write your own blog.

    Secondly, although I welcome diverse views on this blog, I have little tolerance for lying and/or studied ignorance. As you can see from this blog post about Mr Koszarycz, he is guilty of either one or the other (and possibly both) on the subject of voluntary euthanasia.

    As you will see, Mr Koszarycz represented himself as an expert on voluntary euthanasia by agreeing to participate in a public debate in Brisbane in 2012. He later admitted to me he’d had little to do with the subject since – wait for it – 1996. Yes, Yuri, that would explain the rather large ‘gaps’ in your knowledge. It’s a pity you didn’t think it pertinent to divulge that to the audience. You would think a bioethicist would be particular about disclosure, but, apparently not.

    At that event, Koszarycz told the audience that, in 1996, before voluntary euthanasia was formally legalized in the Netherlands, there were ‘genuine safeguards’ in place; that there was, at least, a ‘process’ in place and doctors wishing to hasten the death of a patient had checklists to complete. Then he told them that, after euthanasia was legalized in 2002, ‘the safeguards disappeared’ and ‘doctors were left to their own recognisance’.”

    That statement is completely and utterly false. In fact, the reverse is true. Either Mr Koszarycz was lying or his level of ignorance about the law in the Netherlands was so miserably lacking that he had no business speaking on the subject at all. As Mr Koszarycz is an educated man – an academic – and clearly has the capacity to research and understand legal and medical documents, I have to say that the former seems more likely than the latter.

    In fact, after VE was legalized the ‘processes’ and the ‘genuine safeguards’ which previously existed were not abandoned, but entered into statute. There were not less safeguards, there were more. Further, being legal, VE is no longer practiced under cover as it is here in Australia; it is better reported, better investigated and the safeguards are more strongly enforced.

    This is the kind of nonsense that people like Koszarycz will feed to politicians when a bill is put to parliament. It is unconscionable behaviour but all too common from adherents of the Catholic Church as we have seen from the mendacious Dr Catherine Lennon.

    I have no need to censor information about voluntary euthanasia. If you want to read Catholic propaganda on the subject it is readily available on the internet. The article which Mr Koszarycz wanted you to read was standard fear-mongering – a woman with a disability arguing that voluntary euthanasia for the terminally ill would lead to people with disabilities and the elderly being ‘persuaded’ or made to feel obliged to accept euthanasia rather than being a burden on their families. There is no evidence that kind of abuse is happening anywhere that VE is legalised. It is a myth unsupported by evidence of any kind and the author, Jane Campbell, provides no evidence whatsoever in the article. It is pure opinion untethered to any statement of fact. For anyone interested, the article is here.

    So, Mr Koszarycz, do not accuse me of being afraid of publishing alternate views. I am happy to do so. Do not accuse me of censoring you or depriving you of your right to free speech – you have no right to spout your misinformed nonsense on my blog. And thank you for reminding me about the blog post I wrote about you. It could have died a natural death, but I’m happy, now that you have reminded me, for many more people to know about your actions on that night and how you trashed not only your only reputation, but that of your loathesome church. Happy I can help spread the word.

    1. petercancer

      This topic does draw some strong feelings. I think bringing God or religion into it as a way of putting up barriers, is to deny the reality and needs of the many some religious ,some not. I have had huge support from people in the religious community and I respect all views. It does make it hard however when Politicians and religious groups seem to be so closed and unhelpful on a topic that one day many of you will reflect upon and say it is too late. I only am asking that the majority of this countries population who do believe they would like to have choice at end of life around a medically assisted death are recognised and responded to. As for God I can only believe he is one of love who would not wish suffering and would encourage humankind to be able to make sensible choices. I am however not religious.
      In closing I find the comments and debate around this a bit like sitting in the eye of a Super Typhoon which I have done on 4 occasions in my life for real. I and many like me are in the calm centre of the storm looking our fate in the eye while the unaffected but opinionated swirl around not always helping like the trees and coconuts I used to see flying through windows and signs during super typhoons.
      Best regards and with respect
      Peter Short.

      1. macgrunt

        we are not ‘the unaffected’ Peter. this affects all of us. it may be you immediately, but I fully expect it will be me sometime in the future. I’m not interested in waiting until I have a terminal illness before I become vocal in the debate.

      2. dandare2050

        I for one don’t want to lose you Peter. You write so well. And to that end I am glad to contribute toward finding cures.

        That notwithstanding, while there is no cure you must have the right to choose.

  4. abbienoiraude

    Thank you Chrys for putting this important proposal back into the public sphere.
    I am hopeful that by the time I will need to make this decision that it (and the medical fraternity) will be protected by law.
    I am tired of religious bigots interfering in the way I wish to end my life. I will not insist they partake and I would like the same respect afford to me. My pain, my life, my experience is personal. Those who believe in fairies, or imaginary friends, or flying teapots should have no say in what I do with my endtime.
    Both my (Christian) parents wanted the right to VE at their endtimes and both times I had to deny them that help when they asked me.
    I hope my children won’t be put in that position.

    Thanks again for your considered and clear post and my thoughts are with Peter Short and his doctor. (I have signed the petition).

  5. Jayel

    I imagine that when you become extremely ill your body, over which you once felt you exercised control, would seem to ignore your commands, whether conscious or subconscious, and you are often required to relinquish, to varying degrees, external control over your life in receiving medical treatment and when placing yourself in the hands of those who care for you. Giving people back some kind of control in the form of being able to decide when to draw their last breath surely must take on enormous significance under these circumstances. I cannot understand why anyone would deny this to a fellow human being.

    I, too, will sign that petition. Even if no-one ever took it, the availability of choice is crucial in its own right.

  6. y01anda

    What a great summary of the argument! This sentence in particular

    “That’s the good thing about choice – it means your rights aren’t diminished by other people’s ideas of what is right or wrong for them”

    Studies have shown that where VE is legalised some people live longer than anticipated because of the peace of mind that comes with knowing that VE is an option should they so choose it. And some are actually approved to access VE if required but don’t utilise it …….

    Thanks again Chrys 🙂

    PS – I know you’ve been really busy and away from home covering School Chaplaincy so thanks for taking time out and writing this

  7. petercancer

    Hi I am Peter Short and have just read your comments. Gladly the cross eyed bear , you are a huggable type of bear. Your interpretation of my activity is not adulterated by any conversation we have had and you have simply chosen to get involved and call it how you see it.
    I feel like you must have snuck a look into my head, well done and thanks. I can only ask your readers to help me by using their networks to generate white hot heat on this topic and unprecedented use of the social connections we have to drive that petition.

  8. Julie Taylor

    Excellent work, a very well thought out and expressed article. Thank you for spreading Peter Short’s cause further. Go the Petition! We have the moral right to choose – now for the legal right to catch up. Best Wishes, Julie


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s