According to a 2009 Newspoll, 85 per cent of Australians including three out of four Catholics, four out of five Anglicans, and nine out of 10 Australians with no religion, support voluntary euthanasia.
More recently, in November 2012, The Australia Institute released their national survey of 1,422 people, finding that 71 per cent supported voluntary euthanasia.
Despite this, it remains illegal.
Jay Franklin began thinking about euthanasia in 2007, after an aggressive and life threatening surgery. His last round of surgery was in 2011.
“I was born with a chronic bowel disease called Hirshprungs,” says Jay.
“It affects the nerve endings in the bowel, so this means that things don’t move through the bowel as per usual.
“Since birth I’ve had well over 100 operations, due to bowel obstructions or chronic pain due to adhesions and scar tissue,” says Jay.
“Suicide is something whereby you may affect others in the process, such as; jumping in front of a train, hanging myself or even worse shooting myself.
“I firmly believe that voluntary euthanasia is something that is done within a controlled environment.
“I wish I had the option to do this at home legally.”
If a cure was invented for Jay in the next few years, he says he would “obviously change his mind”.
“But unfortunately there will never, ever be a cure for abdominal adhesions.”
Jay couldn’t wait for Australia to pass the euthanasia bill so he applied to Diginitas, a euthanasia clinic in Switzerland.
But the process was a grueling one. Jay had to request for his operation and doctors notes, from the children’s hospital and adult hospital.
He needed a detailed letter from his GP, and a letter from his mother showing that she supported his decision.
Then, a psychological evaluation took place, to see if Jay was of sound mind to make the decision. After six months, the documents were obtained and confirmed Jay was sane.
Then the documentation was sent off to Switzerland, and finally, after 10 months, Jay received the “green light”, meaning he was given the okay.
“I can go when it’s time for me, when I’m ready,” says Jay.
Dr David Swanton, an ethicist, PhD scientist and establisher of Ethical Rights has been involved in euthanasia issues for almost two decades.
“I got involved before 1996, when the Rights of the Terminally Ill bill was active in the Northern Territory, and there was an attempt to overturn that,” says Dr Swanton.
“I thought that was a great violation of human rights.
“I don’t understand how a government could knowingly let people who are terminally ill or suffering, die in pain without options.”
Gideon Cordover is the Communications Co-coordinator at Dying With Dignity, New South Wales.
“The eight per cent opposing voluntary euthanasia is the institutional religion,” says Cordover. “The Catholic Church as a body… they have a disproportionate political power over state politicians.”
Tasmanian Greens leader Nick McKim has tried twice to enact voluntary euthanasia. The Dying with Dignity Bill was his first attempt in 2009, and his second attempt in 2013 was the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill.
“Parliaments have significantly lagged behind public opinion,” says McKim.
“Firstly, I think that’s because many anti-voluntary euthanasia advocates use dishonest arguments to promote their opinions,
“And secondly, because many parliamentarians are blind that both voluntary and involuntary euthanasia are being practiced regularly by doctors and nurses in Palliative Care wards around Australia.”
Terminally ill people want to live. They do not want to die. That is the biggest difference between suicide and voluntary euthanasia.
“I love life,” says Loredana Alessio-Mulhall. Loredana is 65-years-old and has been living with Advanced Multiple Sclerosis for 40 years.
“I can’t hold anything anymore. I am completely disabled. I can’t move anything apart from my head and mouth.”
Loredana is most scared for when the MS gets to her voice, and she won’t be able to communicate.
“I don’t want to be a vegetable. So once it all goes, I want to die.”
In 2011, Loredana started to seriously think about voluntary euthanasia.
With no funding for a full-time carer, she has to choose the time for a part-time carer to come in. They work for eight hours a day, four hours in the morning, two and a half around lunch time and about two hours at nighttime.
“They won’t allow me to die, but they won’t allow me more hours. What do I do?”
Palliative care doctors have twice come to Loredana’s apartment to try and convince her to move into the hospital.
“For me to go into hospital is so traumatic. Nurses don’t know what to do with me,” she explains.
“Life is hard enough here, but at home, it’s not traumatic. I don’t need to go into hospital.”
IT IS still illegal to aid someone in a suicide.
“For euthanasia people, they want doctors to help commit suicide,” says Katrina Haller, the Senior Executive Officer at The Right to Life Australia.
Haller ads: “You know medical professionals have been trained to save lives, not to kill lives. So it really turns that ethic upside down, if doctors became killers.
“It ruins the trust you have with your doctor. If you went to your doctor or a hospital you wouldn’t know if they were going to kill you or not.”
Dr Rosemary Jones, a transsexual gynecologist, manager of the North Adelaide Medical Centre, and a member of the committee for Doctors for Voluntary Euthanasia Choice disagrees. Strongly.
“That’s bullshit. For years we doctors have always traditionally done terrible things to our patients, in the face of best interest, “ she says.
“We are accustomed to doing these things and to kill someone is not that difficult. I think doctors will take it quite easily.”
Shayne Higson, the State Convenor and Lead Candidate for the Voluntary Euthanasia Party (NSW) also disagrees with Right To Life Australia.
“Doctors don’t see it, they aren’t sitting there day in and day out, hour after hour. Palliative care doesn’t always work.”
“Doctors should have a duty of care to the patient when the situation is hopeless…. No doctor would ever be forced to assist someone who wanted to die, it’s not going to be compulsory.”
Whether people will start taking advantage of euthanasia is uncertain.
“According to The Australian Bureau of Statistics, five elderly Australians commit suicide per week,” says Cordover.
“People over 65 are the second highest to most likely suicide.”
Higson believes legalising voluntary euthanasia would decrease suicide rates. But Haller, from the Right To Life group, says otherwise.
“We have a lot of elder abuse in our society. It can be financial, emotional or social,” says Haller.
“But as a lawyer, there are many cases where people want to get the inheritance or they don’t want the burden of looking after old granny, so yeah it places a lot of temptation in those hands.
“Groups of people will be discriminated against in our society. Like we are seeing with abortions, 90 per cent of babies who are diagnosed with Down syndrome before birth are aborted.”
McKim’s responds to the argument.
“Vulnerable people are already in danger because of a lack of a formal framework. Doctors and nurses are making decisions with no framework to assist them and no framework to protect the rights of the vulnerable and they make those decisions every day.”
Still, Haller compares euthanasia to the holocaust, and that if legalized then we might witness history repeating itself.
“In 1920 the German Government legalised the killing of children under three years of age who had specific conditions. That was the beginning of the holocaust because as we know, the categories increased, to the sick, old, those with a disability, Armenians, gypsies, homosexuals, Jews, non-Germans.”
CORDOVER’s father, Robert passed away from Motor Neurone disease.
“He managed to get an assisted death, a interstate doctor helped him by giving him access to medication, which he then smuggled back and had a good death. But that whole process of trying to get the medication was a huge risk to him and the family.”
Nembutal is frequently the drug used, says Higson.
“In order to get it a lot of people used to go to Mexico and South America and then smuggle it back.
“You are breaking the law, it is an illegal drug, and so people who are sick and elderly have to become criminals.”
Cordover points to a “medicalization” of death in the last 50 years.
“I had this assumption that when granny gets sick, there will be a kind doctor there to help her.
“That doesn’t happen anymore and the reason why that unspoken compassion doesn’t take place is because of the risk of litigation.”
This results in death being tucked away into the ICU’s and Palliative Care wards. And unless one has had first hand experience with hospitals, and death, it creates a lack of empathy for the rest of the population.
According to the Medical Association of Australia, 70 per cent of people want to die at home. But ironically, 70 per cent are dying in intensive care units.
“We also now know that one third of doctors who were surveyed in Victoria, said that they had deliberately hastened a patient’s death. So what we are trying to legislate for is to clear up this ambiguity in the law,” says Cordover.
Prior to Cordover’s father’s death, the topic of euthanasia or death had never been spoken about.
“As a young person I didn’t really have an awareness of mortality, like you don’t really think about it that often.”
The topic of voluntary euthanasia is not something that’s likely to be discussed by young people in particular. Loredana is not surprised.
“Why would there be, why would they ever think about us?” she asks.
“All I want is for it to be legalised, so that people like me can choose.”