Peter Rowe, 52, has a terminal illness. His wife Lee, 52, spoke to news.com.au about the couple’s stance on assisted dying.
Peter Rowe, 52, has a terminal illness. His wife Lee, 52, spoke to news.com.au about the couple’s stance on assisted dying.

Who can take advantage of Victoria’s euthanasia laws?

"HIS brain will liquefy ... it's already cauliflowering."

They're words no one wants to say about someone they love.

But for Lee Rowe, 52, it's the most simplistic way of describing how a rare, incurable, neurological disease is killing her husband, also 52.

Peter, a former member of the Australian Defence Force, was diagnosed with Multiple System Atrophy in 2011. It's not known how long he has left to live but his condition is terminal.

The pair relocated from Canberra to Junee, in country New South Wales, where it was more financially viable for Lee to leave her job and become Peter's full-time carer.

"His brain is liquefying and slowly shutting down all organs and muscles," Ms Rowe told news.com.au.

"His cognitive functions are affected: his speech, his balance.

"Down the line it's going to get really bad. He'll be bed ridden, on dialysis, everything.

"He'll be in a vegetative state and need people to feed him, clean him. For him to have to rely on someone else for everyday things would be so humiliating and degrading that emotionally it would destroy him."

When that time comes, Peter wants to opt for an assisted death, according to Lee.

"He wouldn't look at it until he was at the point where he is a burden on family, society and totally dependent with no quality of life left," Ms Rowe said.

"It's not an easy decision to die.

"But it's an easy decision to want to die with dignity."

Grandfather Peter Rowe, 52, with his granddaughter Olyviah.
Grandfather Peter Rowe, 52, with his granddaughter Olyviah.

Ms Rowe's comments come after the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill was passed by the Legislative Assembly in Victoria, on Wednesday. The state will essentially become home to Australia's only legal assisted-dying scheme.

The legal framework will allow only terminally-ill patients over 18 and living in Victoria for at least a year and with less than six months to live - down from an originally proposed 12 months - to apply to end their lives.

There will, however, be exemptions for sufferers of conditions such as motor neurone disease and multiple sclerosis who have a life expectancy of one year.

They will have to be assessed by two medical specialists and be granted permits to access the yet-to-be-decided lethal medication.

Those approved to die by euthanasia will be administered the deadly drug within 10 days.

 

Dying with Dignity NSW vice president Shayne Higson told news.com.au most people with a terminal illness were not in a position to relocate interstate.

"What the critics are trying to imply is that the law will create a burden for Victoria and cost the state lots of money when people flock from all over the country for assisted dying," Ms Higson said.

"But that's completely unrealistic. It would be hard to find anyone who is dying and willing to relocate from their support networks.

"I know of a lady with emphysema who is going to choke to death. She won't make the 18 months to be eligible for assisted dying nor would she make 12 months to be able to reside in Victoria and qualify."

Ms Rowe said she and her husband had considered relocating to Victoria to take advantage of its new assisted dying laws but ultimately decided against it.

The scheme won't be available in Victoria until mid-2019, with an implementation panel to be created to design the finer details of the scheme. Lee told news.com.au that "it won't be in time" for her husband.

Peter Rowe was forced to retire from the Australian Navy in 2014 after being diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder three years earlier.
Peter Rowe was forced to retire from the Australian Navy in 2014 after being diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder three years earlier.

"It's also a financial liability but the biggest problem is we would have to leave all of our support network and our family. And they wouldn't be there at the end," Ms Rowe said.

"All people want to do is die peacefully with family around them and that wouldn't be an option for us in another state."

Ms Rowe wants other Australian states and territories to "come on board" with euthanasia laws. "If they did a referendum like same-sex marriage it would go through without a problem," she said.

"The majority of the public are for this because most people have watched a loved one slowly die without dignity.

"Even if not in time for us, I want it to be in time for others."

Assisted suicide is illegal in most countries around the world and until now had been banned in Australia, although it was legal for a time in the Northern Territory before the law was overturned in the 1990s.

When legal there, prominent Australian right-to-die campaigner Philip Nitschke became the first doctor in the world to administer a legal, voluntary, lethal injection to end a life.

He went on to do the same for three other people.

Other states in Australia have debated assisted dying in the past, but the proposals have always been defeated, mostly recently in NSW in September.

Victorian Attorney-General Martin Pakula said robust debate on the issue had ensured there were ample safeguards for the state's new euthanasia laws.

"We have ensured we have compassionate legislation while still giving Victorians the protections and safeguards they need - making this the most conservative and safest scheme in the world," he said.

State Health Minister Jill Hennessy said the implementation of the bill had started "to give people some hope and some compassion that a good death will in fact be possible for people who are enduring difficult end of lives."

But the move does have its detractors. Anti-euthanasia groups remain concerned it will start a "slippery slope" of people killing off vulnerable relatives. And there are already calls for the law to be repealed.

"A future Victorian parliament should have the moral decency to repeal this euthanasia law," former prime minister Tony Abbott tweeted.

Dr Nitschke welcomed Victoria's move, but objected to its conservatism.

"Victoria has passed what's almost the world's most conservative and possibly unworkable scheme," Dr Nitschke said.



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