HSV Lecture 2018 – Fade to Black

Picture of Fade to Black medicine bottle

Screening of DVD documentary by Jeremy Ervine at Hawthorn Community Precinct on 26 July 2018

The DVD began with a man, aged 80, who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer talking to camera. He said that the last few weeks of his life were hell. He wanted to kill himself. He said that his life was not worth living as he was suffering so much pain. He had tried several types of medical treatment but nothing was working. His daughters said that he should have been able to get help from the medical profession to end his life peacefully.

Interviewed on camera, Dr Rodney Syme (AHoY 2017), said that the best way for someone to end their life is with an oral dose of the drug Nembutal. He said that such an ending is peaceful and dignified. Footage showed Dr Syme passing over such medication to Peter Short.

In an interview, Dr Philip Nitschke (AHoY 1998) said that people’s wishes on how they want to die should be respected. In 1996, Dr Nitschke, then practising in the Northern Territory, was the first medical doctor in the world to legally provide a lethal injection as requested by a terminally ill person, after the NT had legalised euthanasia. However, as is well known, Federal legislation by the Liberal National Government could override legislation with a Territory. Thus ended legal euthanasia in the Northern Territory. [Note: This was what Senator Leyonhjelm’s bill was aimed at overturning.]

Voluntary euthanasia was legalised in Oregon in 1997 and a number of other US states subsequently. It has also been legalised in a number of countries, including Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Colombia and Canada.

The focus of this DVD was on Peter Short, a Coles Express CEO, who was diagnosed with terminal esophageal cancer on his 57th birthday and told that he had only 6 to 9 months to live. He then began searching the internet to find ways to kill himself.

After surgery Peter made a partial recovery before his cancer reasserted itself and he was finally faced with a terminal condition. To the camera, he described his condition as having little quality of life and being in pain 24 hours of day.

The rest of the DVD covers Peter, supported by his wife and teenage son, devoting the remaining months of his life to lobbying to get assisted dying legalised. This included telling a Senate inquiry that he wanted to choose when and how he died. The DVD also included footage of opponents of assisted dying arguing against legalisation and in favour of palliative care. For example, there was footage of Margaret Tighe from Right to Life.

In an interview, Andrew Denton, a strong advocate of assisted dying, pointed out that palliative care cannot always eliminate end-of-life suffering. Peter Short eventually went into palliative care and died peacefully shortly after, without using the Nembutal Dr Syme had supplied.

After the screening, the audience participated in a brief discussion. Rodney Syme, who was present, made some pertinent comments about the particular words different people use when talking about voluntary assisted dying.

Report by Joe Sampson (edit)