The right to choose your final day

We like to keep it light here at Starts at 60 but we couldn’t ignore the mounting coverage in the media about euthanasia – it’s such an important issue in our community and even for the younger generations, as we will discuss.

Just this past weekend, Darwin man Martin Burgess died after it was suspected that he had been given access to controversial euthanasia drug Nembutal.

But this was no accident – Martin wanted to die and had begged for the drug in a heart-wrenching YouTube video last month. He had terminal cancer and described his symptoms as horrific. He had reached out to a dying organisation in Switzerland but had not gotten that far before desperately looking for something closer to home.

This story is just one of many in Australia where a terminally ill person wishes to die with dignity. They choose to end their lives on a day of significance or even on one that isn’t, but at the very least, they do not want to die on a day where they are in agony and so are their families. Palliative care is the typical option for critically ill patients and is often the last stop for Australians who cannot go overseas to die with dignity. Martin said in his video, “Frankly I would rather die here in Darwin in my own home than in a lingering death with palliative care”.

In Australia, assisting someone to die is a criminal offence that could attract a life sentence for whoever gave this drug to Martin (if it was in fact administered), however there is a loophole in laws that allows people like Martin to use the internet to bypass these laws.

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In a sad twist, Martin was a federal candidate for the Voluntary Euthanasia party in the last election and had been campaigning for Exit International, a euthanasia advocacy group for about 15 years prior to his diagnosis of rectal cancer in 2011. If laws had been passed to allow for euthanasia, he would have been eligible thanks to his own hard work.

And it isn’t just Martin who has brought up the debate about euthanasia in the last few weeks, there is also a young Californian woman who has aggressive brain cancer. Brittany Maynard has chosen her date to die as this Saturday, November 1. After hearing her crushing diagnosis, the 29-year-old moved with her husband to Oregon where they have a Death with Dignity Act. She has chosen to end her life on the day after her husband’s birthday and stresses that she does not want to die, she simply wants to have that final decision. She doesn’t want to die suddenly, without being able to say goodbye properly – she wants her family to be able to be there on November 1 and surround her with love as she passes.

Brittany said that her family accepted her choice. “I think in the beginning my family members wanted a miracle; they wanted a cure for my cancer”, she said. “When we all sat down and looked at the facts, there isn’t a single person that loves me that wishes me more pain and more suffering”.

A 2011 Newspoll found 82% of Australians support medically assisted voluntary euthanasia, so it is clear that all that is needed now is our Government’s support.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.


What do you think? Is euthanasia the answer? Do terminally ill patients have the right to die? Tell us your thoughts below.