Andrew Denton wrote this piece for Mamamia in 2015. In less than a week, on June 19, 2019, Victoria’s euthanasia laws will come into effect. There are stringent criteria and 68 safeguards. Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos has described the Bill as the safest and most conservative set of euthanasia laws in the world.
For years, Denton has been one of Australia’s fiercest advocates for euthanasia, producing a podcast in 2016 titled ‘Better Off Dead’.
Here, he writes about watching his father die, and how it changed him. There are facts and references that have changed since this story was published (including Victoria’s laws) that Mamamia has chosen not to change, but his argument is as pertinent as ever.
Who am I to be talking to you about a subject as complex as assisted dying? I have no medical qualifications – just two Logie nominations – so what would I know?
It’s true, I have no expertise … other than the expertise many of us share: I saw someone I love die badly.
My dad, Kit, used to joke that he wanted to go by walking into the shallow end of an Olympic-sized pool filled with single-malt whisky and just keep walking. Sadly, that never happened.
Watching him die remains the most profoundly shocking experience of my life.
He was 67, and though clearly dying of heart failure, and obviously in great pain, dad was assisted to die in the only way that Australia’s law then (and now) would allow: He was given ever-increasing doses of sedatives, to settle the pain.
But morphine never did settle the pain. The images of those final three days will never be erased.
How much longer until assisted dying is legal in Australia? The Mamamia Out Loud team discuss. Post continues after audio.
That was 18 years ago. In the years since, whenever I’ve talked about it, I’ve been struck by how many respond with similar stories about people they love dying slowly, in pain, and, seemingly, beyond medical help.
Every time I hear it, I think, “Surely we can do better than this?”
Then a couple of years ago I read an article by Tasmanian writer Margaretta Pos, describing the final days of her father, Hugo, who lived in the Netherlands.
Hugo, dying of cancer, had been granted the right to euthanasia under Netherlands law. His last week was spent farewelling friends. His last night was with family, and Mozart, and with nothing left unsaid. He died peacefully and on his own terms.