The right to die is a highly contentious issue with people and politicians all over Australia unable to agree on whether those in the final stages of life should be granted access to help to ease their pain and soften their exit from this world.
However, one former regional mayor has revealed why he is in favour of voluntary assisted dying laws being introduced across the country, after he was diagnosed with stage four melanoma and promptly told to consider his options for end of life care.
Peter Williams, from Echuca, Victoria, was diagnosed in March 2017 after suffering bad pains in his lower abdomen, and his local GP wasted no time in broaching the topic of assisted dying before Peter had even been through treatment.
“I went back to my local GP, who is a friend, for a check up and he said ‘I suppose we better have the end of life choice discussion’,” Peter told Starts at 60. “Obviously I had pretty clear ideas on how I wanted to go, if that was going to happen.
“I don’t want to end up in a hospital bed for six months, feeling like crap and dying in pain. I think it’s essential to have a plan, to be in control of your own end.”
Williams said he is lucky enough to have been brought up in a very “pragmatic” family, admitting he didn’t back away from discussing the difficult topic of euthanasia with his father, who recently passed away, and his 92-year-old mum.
The 65-year-old, who is still working on his brother’s lettuce farm, added: “I’ve been brought up by my family to be quite pragmatic about these things. I had the conversation with my parents, we’re straight shooters. It’s sensible – a bit like taking out life insurance, you don’t collect until you’re dead, or until you have a disease or an illness that’s terminal.
“If you’ve got a terminal illness from which you are never going to recover, then when your body gets to a point where it can do nothing than suffer, how can we be so unkind to insist that you stay alive. There’s no way anybody would possibly want that for someone they love.”
Peter – who studied law before dropping out to work as a teacher, and later purchased a book shop – isn’t the only member of his family to have had melanomas removed, as his late father and two brothers have also been diagnosed in the past.
The four-time mayor of Campaspe Shire shunned chemo and radiotherapy, instead enrolling on a clinical trial at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, which has combined two different types of immunotherapy to tackle his cancer, successfully reducing the tumours around his body.
He has been having treatment at the specialist hospital since his diagnosis, revealing the results after six-months of fortnightly treatment were “miraculous”, saying: “I had some things in my brain, some things in my spine, all through my torso, except my major organs. But after six months, as far as they could tell, it had disappeared.”
“I’m quite healthy for my age and I was very positive about the treatment,” he added. “I was going to beat the bastard, so I said ‘look, I’m happy to be a guinea pig’. If it doesn’t work for me it might help you work something out for others.”
Peter, who also hosts a weekly quiz night in his local community, lives in Victoria – which is the only area in Australia to have passed legislation on voluntary assisted dying, however he believes it’s time the politicians in Canberra began listening to the wants of the Australian people and stopped “dragging change”.
Discussing the failed bill that was introduced by Senator David Leyonhjelm last month – which would have allowed the Northern Territory and ACT to consider their own legislation on voluntary assisted dying – Williams said it was “a disgrace” that politicians in one jurisdiction could rule on matters that affect another.
“You can choose not to be vaccinated, but it’s your choice,” he said. “You can choose not to take measures to avoid getting pregnant. They’re all choices. Many people don’t make great choices but then other people think they have the right to tell people what they can do with their lives. And I think, how sad.
“No one wants to say goodbye. But I would say when I can no longer enjoy a good red wine or a great political debate with my friends and loved ones then, really, give me the pill.”
Peter shared his story via charity Go Gentle Australia who are campaigning to see voluntary assisted dying legalised across the nation, and work to help relieve the distress, helplessness and suffering experienced by Australians with untreatable or terminal illnesses, their families and carers.
To find out more about the work of Go Gentle Australia, click here.
If you’re depressed or need someone to talk to, there are many 27/4 support lines available, including Lifeline on 13 11 14, the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467, MensLineAustralia on 1300 789 978 and Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.