‘They don’t understand how desperate we are’
EMOTIONS at a packed suicide workshop yesterday might have fluctuated between cheery and sombre but the overall message from the elderly was crystal clear - they are doggedly determined to choose their own deaths.
This emerged at the first Australian leg of Dr Philip Nitschke's Disrupting Death Euthanasia workshop.
The event attracted hundreds of people from all over the Gold Coast and Queensland, all keen to hear about assisted suicide and to choose how and when they can end their own lives, if they need to.
All of them were adamant they did not want to spend their last days in a nursing home and were surprisingly calm about hearing confronting details about assisted suicide.
One elderly man told the Bulletin he had already "made plans'' - and had been visited late one night, he said, by federal police.
Dr Nitschke was unavailable for comment outside the meeting, but among the subjects discussed in the workshop was his controversial suicide machine. Footage of how the Sarco pod works was unveiled for the first time in Australia behind closed doors.
Rob Smythe, 75, travelled from his home north of Stanthorpe, to hear the polarising euthanasia doctor at the Robina Community Centre.
"I'm going through cancer and I've had seven cancer operations," he said quietly. "I've had 20 inches of my bowel removed - twice - and in 2010, I had two-thirds of my stomach removed."
But worse was to come.
"In December last year I lost my younger brother, Barry, to cancer. He would have been 73 today,'' Mr Smythe said.
"He died in palliative care on the Sunshine Coast and it wasn't what he wanted.
"Two months before he died, he lost a lot of weight, had extra pain. He would say to me, 'Rob, I just want to have a heart attack'.
"I came here today because I've always felt it's a no-brainer that I should be able to choose to take my life the sensible way if I've had enough.
"Woe betide the imbecile who tells me what to do and what not to do. It's my right to choose a dignified death.
"I don't ever want to go into a nursing home. I've always been in control.
"I'm OK at the moment but s--t happens. I have to go for a PET scan soon."
A gentle 85-year-old, who lives in a Gold Coast retirement village with his frail cousin, said he was ill with lung and prostate cancer, but his major concern was his memory loss.
"My sister and brother had Alzheimer's. It's all too much for people like me, to feel old and losing my brain function," he said.
"Oh yes, I would definitely consider an assisted suicide. I know what I need to do."
He said he had already made plans for assisted suicide and - he said - he had had a late-night visit from the Australian Federal Police recently.
"If I start losing my marbles, why should I have to jump in front of a car or a bus? I don't think younger people can understand how desperate us older people are,'' he said.
"I hope what I've said is OK."
Pat Williams, 86, of Currumbin, was appalled at the possibility of dying in a nursing home or suffering like her husband did.
"My mum died in a nursing home at the age of 96 and it's not an experience I want to repeat," she said.
"I'm not ill - not that I know of - but my husband Keith committed suicide 14 years ago because he was terminally ill. He had stage four melanoma. He was 75.
"He was in extreme pain until he died. He could only shuffle and it was only a matter of days until he lost the use of his legs.
"His wasn't an easy death. I had to be away from him when he died, which was the hardest thing I've ever done. I want another option when it becomes necessary.
"I believe in assisted suicide, of course, and I'm fascinated by Dr Nitschke's Sarco pod, even though I'm not technically minded. I would like to have it as an option."
Liz, 67, of Paradise Point, said she had watched too many people "decay" in nursing homes.
"I've smelt the smells and heard the cries. It's barbaric," she said.
"It doesn't matter how good and decent people have been, everything can be stripped away from them because they can't live alone or drive a car.
"They're vulnerable with no voice.
"I would definitely consider assisted suicide if I've had enough. I've struggled with a health condition from an early age and when I can't manage it, I don't want my rights and my dignity stripped from me.
"I'm here because this is a human rights issue and I'm delighted to see so many people here who are physically frail but they have opinions, rights and beliefs. They need a voice."
The workshop was packed with people mainly over the age of 70 but one young face stood out - that of Michael Dennis, 27, who flew from Cairns for the workshop.
His mum Kerri had been involved with Dr Nitschke's Exit International since it started and in
spite of his youth, he was adamant everyone should have a choice about when and how to die.
"No one should be forced to suffer in pain and a government shouldn't be the one that decides whether you live or die," he said.
"My grandfather has dementia and he has a hard time in a nursing home.
"He was an adventurous man and now he's stuck in a chair. If he was in his right mind, I know he wouldn't want to live.
"If I get very ill and there is no cure, I would 100 per cent consider assisted suicide. I deserve that right."
Mr Dennis said he was surprised by how chipper attendees were.
"They're very involved. They want to find out all about this."