These testimonies are just a very small sample of the many, many testimonies that demonstrate not only the need for voluntary assisted dying legislation but the type of legislation that is needed. You’ll find many more detailed testimonies in Andrew Denton’s, The Damage Done, and in the submissions and evidence to the Victorian inquiry into end of life choices.
What they show so clearly is the critical need is for a legal option with the key aim of allowing people and their doctors to end intolerable suffering that is otherwise unrelievable, when there are no other options left. That is the key aim of the new Tasmanian Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2016.
It has other aims as well:
- to prevent desperate suicides with devastating consequences;
- to provide comfort which can have a palliative effect when people know there may be an option for them if they end up with intolerable and unrelievable suffering and have no chance of recovery or relief; and
- to protect doctors, families and others from the risk and considerable fear of prosecutions for acts of compassion and kindness that may be regarded as criminal acts.
The Bill is based on a thorough consideration of the needs and wishes of real people, with real suffering in a range of circumstances – such as the people whose stories are set out here. Unless this is done, any voluntary assisted dying law could include unnecessary and cruel hurdles, such as a requirement that people have to have a clear prognosis of days or weeks to death. This is not necessary as a safeguard and it has a cruel outcome of denying an option for people with great suffering and no chance of recovery, like Joan Fitz-Nead and Elizabeth Godfrey. As their stories show, and as described in harrowing detail by the Victorian Coroner in his evidence to the Victorian inquiry, people in this desperate situation are forced into a cruel choice – continue to endure unnecessarily prolonged and terrible suffering, or take “their own lives in desperate but determined circumstances” (p193, Victorian report).
“Little by little those things that allow you to enjoy life, especially if you enjoyed life, disappear.”
For years she has been seeing her body crumble around her due to spinal disintegration. It has left her in chronic, debilitating pain.” (From Examiner article written by Piia Wirsu, 4 Dec 2016)
In December 2002, she for the third time attempted suicide. She was suffering from a damaged spine resulting from an attack a few years earlier, which left her in debilitating, untreatable pain.
This time she succeeded.” (From Examiner article written by Piia Wirsu, 4 Dec 2016)
“When Robert Cordover died his family was instructed to destroy his writings. He left instructions he was not to be buried according to his faith, but was to be cremated so there was no chance his body could be exhumed. There was to be no ceremony as it would prolong the time before he was cremated. Mr Cordover made these requests to protect his family from his death. At the end of 2008 Mr Cordover was diagnosed with motor neurone disease.” (From Examiner article written by Piia Wirsu, 4 Dec 2016)
My father, Robert Cordover, was suffering from Motor Neurone Disease, a terminal illness, when he took his own life on June 22, 2009. I was 19 years old. Robert did not want a lingering death and figured he had to act early whilst he still had the mobility to die alone, before the impending total paralysis. Had assisted dying been legal my father could have survived for weeks or months longer. I would have done anything to have had just a bit more time with him.
In 2005 nurse Cathy Pryor was convicted of the attempted murder of her mother and assisting the suicide of her father. Both were grievously ill, her father in the last weeks of liver cancer.
In a decision imposing a two-year non-custodial sentence, the Tasmanian Supreme Court judge found that Cathy had acted out of love and compassion.
My name is Loredana Alessio-Mulhall and I have advanced, progressive multiple sclerosis. I am totally disabled and can’t move anything except my head and my mouth. I have had a catheter for 10 years and a colostomy for 15 years and for me there is no turning back.
It is too late for me. Although I can’t move, I feel everything and have pain every day and nerve pain is the worst.
Mr Virgona was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999, but had lost almost all autonomy and was afraid of deteriorating to the point where he could no longer advocate for himself.
I already get headaches about daily now. I get ‘bad headaches’ about every two to three days or so. I can generally push through these but, what happens when I can’t? At the moment I just have to keep suffering and keep living.
In May 2012, aged 77, Mum was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Initially she spent three weeks in hospital and, with each visit from her doctors, the news got progressively worse. Mum had an aggressive form of glioblastoma multiforme, and with multiple tumours they could not operate or do radiation therapy for fear of causing severe brain damage.
In 2009 I was diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis. Seven years later, I could describe the horrors of advanced MS to you, and how it has dismantled my life, piece by piece, but that would just be words on a page. Can you truly imagine the unimaginable and the endurance of the unendurable?
Sally Crossing AM
Sally Crossing AM fought two fights: she had metastatic cancer, and she campaigned for choice at the end of her life for herself and all Australians. Sally wanted to make sure that her dying was consistent with what she wanted, and not decided by others. She shared her story and reasons why she felt so passionately about this issue.
Sally passed away on 28 December 2016.