CONTENT WARNING: Discussion of voluntary euthanasia.
On 29 November 2017, the state of Victoria - where I live in the capital of Melbourne - became the first Australian state to pass Voluntary Assisted Dying laws, which legalised euthanasia and made it accessible to those suffering terminal illness and facing a slow, painful death.
It was not without its controversies and there are still arguments that it goes too far or doesn't go far enough. In broad strokes, the bill allows an adult who is over 18, of sound mind, suffering from a terminal illness, with a life expectancy of less than six months, to access assisted dying. There are some 68 safeguards in place and the application must be approved by two doctors, one of who must be independent of the patient, for a permit to be given.
As you can imagine, the debate got heated, with both sides opening fire on the other. These types of laws always inflame passions and strong opinions hold sway. Morals, religion, personal experience, opinion and many other factors were used to justify arguments and shoot down the other, but the bill eventually passed and became law in Victoria.
Premier Daniel Andrews (right), Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessy (centre) and Victorian Attorney-General Martin Pakula (left) speak on the steps of the Victorian Parliament House after the passage of assisted dying laws. The bill passed with 47 votes to 37 in the lower house, and by a slimmer margin of 22 to 18 in the upper house. Photo: ABC News.
For my part, I was never sure where I sat on the issue of assisted dying. It seemed complex and frightening, yet I was also acutely aware that my ability to distance myself fro it was due to a lucky ignorance. I myself have never faced a terminal illness and never had someone I love go through one either; my thoughts on the matter were informed by theories, articles and listening to debates and arguments from both sides, but I never really had a strong opinion either way.
So many 'what ifs' swirled around in my mind, but I was not unhappy that the law passed. Whether or not it was a victory yet I wasn't sure, but the people who had been campaigning for it proclaimed it to be a step in the right direction, although those who had been against it from the start declared November 29 to be a terrible day, not just for Victoria but also for Australia.
My views continued to be mixed until I read an article this morning the The Age about a doctor who has assisted two dozen Victorians apply for voluntary assisted dying permits. All of them, he said, have been bed-ridden and racked with pain, and want an opportunity for a peaceful, dignified end.
I found the article to be deeply moving and I was very touched by the story within. However, what finally cemented my feelings and left me a firm proponent of Victoria's assisted dying laws was a letter published at the end of the article. It was written to the doctor by the patient who was the focus of the story.
"I struggled to think of a way to say thank you for what you have done for me. I chose to write it down so that you can never forget. Thank you for your bravery in administering the medication for me today so that I can finally be at peace.
"Thank you for making me a priority in your schedule when I am sure you have other patients to attend and a family of your own. Thank you for being so kind to my family, putting their minds at rest and answering their questions. Thank you for spending many years of your life studying and working hard in order that you can help people like me. I am pleased and honoured to have known you for what feels like a fleeting moment. I am so proud of the job that you have done and I am eternally thankful.
"Best wishes for your future mate,
The passage of Victoria's assisted dying legislation meant that this man could die at home, surrounded by his loved ones, in peace and comfort, rather than in a hospital or palliative care, hooked up to machines and in excruciating pain. I think, if I had to go, and I couldn't drift off quietly in my sleep, that is what I would want too: a soft, peaceful death.
"It was a kindness and a mercy"
After years of uncertainty and indecision on a topic which truly ignites passions, I now firmly believe that the state of Victoria and countries of the world who have legalised assisted dying, have done the right thing. It is not a question or morals, religion or opinion, it is a question of dignity. People facing their morality through terminal illness face so much that is out of their control, giving them the final say in how they wish to depart this life can only be the right thing to do.
You don't have to like me. I'm not a Facebook post.
Me With No Apologies.