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.
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.
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