Channel 7’s Sunday Night program went to air last night with a story that was both controversial and deeply confronting.
Susan Potts was a healthy 89-year-old. She was fit, physically mobile and by all accounts living a happy and enjoyable life; unencumbered by the illness and disease that plague many others her age.
The former model lived an existence that Elizabeth Taylor would have been proud of. Susan was married three times, she was a wildly successful businesswoman whose wealth mean she could live a life of luxury on the Gold Coast (complete with a vintage Rolls Royce to drive around).
On 19 October this year Susan Potts gave an interview, which was put to air on yesterday’s program. She didn’t tell her friends or family that she had given the interview. She didn’t tell them what her plans were. She didn’t say goodbye.
And then, on 23 October, she took her own life.
Sunday Night reported that:
Potts’ sister was the famous author Sara Henderson, who died a lingering and painful death Potts witnessed and did not want for herself.
Despite being in good health, sprightly and with all her mental faculties, Potts simply wanted to check out, on her terms, to her own timetable.
She also wanted her decision to become a talking point for the euthanasia debate.
The program also spoke with so-called ‘Doctor Death’ Philip Nitshke, who run an organisation that champions people’s right to die at a time of their choosing. Nitscke met Susan before she died and admits to assisting her and ‘thousands’ of others to access the drug they need to kill themselves painlessly.
He defends the right of someone to take their own life, even when fit and healthy. In fact, Nitschke goes to far as to argue that legally the Government should allow people to access the necessary drugs from the age of 50, if they so choose.
Sunday Night: What advice did you give her:
Nitschke: She wanted to know about drugs – ones that work, not ones that might work. And so we gave her the information she wanted – what are the best drugs and where do you get them.
Sunday Night: Do you understand that some people will see in the case of Susan – a healthy woman – that helping her to die was a slippery slope? She wasn’t sick.
Nitschke: No she wasn’t sick. But she was clear of mind. She had considered all of the options. And then she made a rational, informed decision that now was the time to die. Now who is going to criticize that? What am I supposed to say to her ‘I’m sorry…?’
Euthanasia is not legal in Australia. This was of great concern to Susan Potts, who did not want to be forced into a situation where she was incapacitated and unable to access the resources she would need to end her life. And it seems that this concern is shared by a significant number of Australians:
Opinion polling conducted for the Australia Institute in November 2010 (1,294 respondents) recorded a total 75 per cent said ‘yes’ to the question: “If someone with a terminal illness, who is experiencing un-relievable suffering asks to die, should a doctor be allowed to assist them to die?” Sixty-five per cent of the respondents who said ‘yes’ declared themselves to be Christians.
Yet in the 12 attempts to get voluntary euthanasia through any Australian state parliament since Marshall Perron’s Northern Territory Rights of the Terminally Ill Act was expunged by Kevin Andrews’ 1997 Federal Parliament private member’s bill, all have failed on the numbers.
While most Australians support euthanasia in some circumstances, the right of someone to die when they are fit and healthy and may have years of quality life ahead of them – blurs the lines considerably.
Last night’s program was intensely difficult to watch and at times distressing. Susan’s calm demeanor and healthy and bright appearance was particularly disarming.
The euthanasia debate has been quiet in recent years, this is sure to reignite it.
If you are concerned about the mental health of yourself or a loved one, seek support and information by calling Lifeline Australia – 13 11 14 or beyondblue: the national depression initiative 1300 22 4636.