For Aussie man Troy Thornton, the thought of leaving his beloved family behind in just a few days time is heartbreaking – but he feels even more haunted by the possibility that his wife may not find happiness again.
Now, just days before he’s due to take his own life in Switzerland, former firefighter Troy has revealed to Starts at 60 the final message he gave his wife Christine, pleading with her to move on and find love again once he’s gone.
The Melbourne father-of-two, 54, is set to administer a life-ending drug on Friday, February 22, at Basel’s Life Circle assisted suicide clinic – the same one used by Australia’s oldest scientist Dr David Goodall last year – in order to finally end years of misery and suffering.
Troy was diagnosed in July 2014 with multiple system atrophy, a progressive neurodegenerative disorder caused by degeneration of nerve cells in parts of the brain that can affect movement, balance, speech, bladder control and even breathing. The symptoms worsen over time and tragically there is no cure.
He has spent the years since his devastating diagnosis watching his health slowly decline, while having to give up his hobbies including surfing and football as well as his work in the fire service.
While he vowed never to consider suicide, he started to learn more about Swiss assisted dying laws and made the decision to legally end his life before he becomes incapable of any movement or speech – leaving his family no option but to put him in a care home.
Troy has involved Christine in the decision every step of the way, knowing full well how it will affect her, and he made one final plea before he left – asking her to try to move on and live a happy life again without him.
“My wife is only 47, she’s beautiful inside and out, and I leave her with a full heart,” he said. “I’ve said to her, ‘You will grieve me for a while but you’re a young woman, go and partner up again’.
“I love her. You don’t want her to grieve her for the rest of her life, she’s only 47, she could live until she’s 90. I hate the idea of her being by herself. That’s what you do for people you love, you want them to be happy. I reckon she’s a good catch!”
Recalling the moment they met 20 years ago, Troy said they were both married but had been separated from their former spouses for a while at the time. He immediately caught a glimpse of her at a party and liked her straight away – but claimed Christine played hard to get at first.
Despite having to persuade her less-than-convinced brother around to the idea at the time, he continued pursuing her and they haven’t looked back since.
The years he’s spent making his difficult decision have also given Troy time to plan his final days with his family. While Christine will fly with him to Switzerland, his children Jack, 17, and Laura, 14, will remain at home with their grandparents – in order to try and keep their lives as normal as possible during the traumatic time.
“Their welfare is really important,” he said of his children. “Our friend will be bringing my wife home, and then she can come back to family so they’re all around her.
“The fire brigade are doing all the funeral arrangements. They’re having my service up at the fire brigade. Then my wife doesn’t have to worry about any of that, it’s an unreal relief. She just needs to turn up.”
Troy has also created a video to be shown at his service, explaining his reasons for ending his life to all of his loved ones.
“I really wanted the chance to tell people what my logic was and why I’m gone. I don’t want people, or my kids, or my wife to think that I’m abandoning them – that I’m running away,” he said.
“I’m not running away, I’m just doing this so I’m taken out of my misery and my wife and my kids can get on with their lives.”
Rather than feeling any apprehension now, Troy said he’s actually “counting down the days” as his disorder has been getting progressively worse since Christmas.
“I’m on my last legs now,” he admitted. “I can still just walk, my speech is pretty crap, I’ve lost bladder control, my head is spinning all the time, I have double vision and I feel nauseous all the time.”
It’s almost impossible to predict how long someone can survive with Troy’s disorder, meaning he wouldn’t qualify for Victoria’s new assisted dying laws – set to take effect later this year – which require a doctor to confirm a person is terminal and has less than 12 months to live.
According to the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017, in order to qualify to have access to assisted dying, “a person must be diagnosed with a disease, illness or medical condition that is incurable, advanced, progressive and will cause death, and is expected to cause death within less than 12 months”.
Troy is now calling for changes to the law, explaining that while Victoria’s new bill is a huge step in the right direction, it still fundamentally has the wrong focus.
“I’ve realised the human rights law in Switzerland have the right focus. That focus is a human’s right to choose,” he said. “But over here, it seems our legislators have got a whole different focus. They’re focused on terminal illnesses, suffering and pain… They should be focused on the right to choose.”
To see more about Troy’s journey, visit his GoFundMe page here.