Image credit: Mads Bødker

During the lead up to the federal election I was privileged enough to have a chance to speak with Dr Philip Nitschke, leader of the Voluntary Euthanasia Party and director of Exit International.

“We’re unashamedly a single issue party, it’s the Voluntary Euthanasia Party,” said Mr Nitschke. “Our goal is the introduction of good and secure legislation into state parliaments around Australia and also an alteration to laws that preclude territories from making such laws.”

“We’ve had twenty years in Australia where [voluntary euthanasia] has been an issue which is very popular with the broader Australian population,” he said “but the main political parties have shown an inability to deal with the issue.”

Fantasy fiction fans will know that prolific author, Terry Pratchett, is another proponent of voluntary euthanasia.

Pratchett’s 2011 documentary Choosing to Die sparked outrage in the UK where it received hundreds of complaints from Christian and pro-life groups who called the film biased, a claimed denied by the BBC (producer) and Mr Pratchett himself.

Mr Pratchett meets Elly Overzier, the widow of prominent Dutch author Hugo Claus who, like Pratchett, suffered Alzheimer’s disease and wished to end his life with “pride and dignity”.

Ms Overzier recounts the last night of her husband’s life and, in a particularly poignant moment, describes how the pair climbed into his hospital bed and sang while he passed away: “He died singing,” she said with a tear.

The documentary also follows motor neurone disease sufferer, English millionaire, Peter Smedley as he makes the decision to end his life with the help of Swiss organisation, Dignitas.

Mr Smedley decides to end his life and, with his wife at his side, he swallows a dose of Nembutol and slips off to sleep. His breathing deepens, falters and ultimately stops in a process so peaceful those around him are unable to pinpoint the exact moment of his death.

“It’s an individual issue,” said Mr Pratchett in an interview with Leigh Sales. “Some of the Christian majority put a spoke in the wheel… they say, what about the sanctity of human life? I say, what about dignity of human life?”

There’s very little chance that the Australian government will decriminalise voluntary euthanasia, said Mr Nitschke “they’re fearful of generally strong opposition from church groups. They also know that there are people in their own parties who will never agree.”

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported
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  • Cheryl Van Hoorn

    A wonderfully well balanced piece here, Bec. It gives light to the absolute lack of humanity that goes into forcing people with these types of disorders die from the ‘sanctity of life brigade’ who do not have to go through this or watch a loved one go through.

    Having been a nurse I have a great deal of insight to what these patients go through and it is profoundly humiliating for them especially when they have a full awareness of what they are going through and what is to come.

    I had a patient that was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer (a particularly nasty form of cancer. When she was diagnosed she asked me one night if I could help her. I could not directly do anything but if she told me that she needed a degree of privacy as she had family coming in then I would not check on her as frequently as I normally would. She did not follow through on that and was dead two months later with her family around her. It was not the first time I was asked and one of the major issues is around method. As a nurse I could not legally assist but at times I turned a blind eye.

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