By Raquel Mustillo
IT is easy for Mount Gambier resident and former nun Jane Qualmann to reconcile the Catholic Church’s moral theology which rejects euthanasia and her support for voluntary assisted dying.
Ms Qualmann is suffering through the latter stages of a terminal illness and wants to end her own life when her suffering becomes too great.
It is a dignified end available to Victorians living just 20 minutes away but for South Australians, the right to choose has yet to be legislated.
“God never wanted me to suffer,” Ms Qualmann said.
“Jesus suffered on that cross, but he didn’t want us to suffer.
“In no way can I ever see a God who loves us, has nurtured us and has got us this far want us to die a horrible death at the hands of someone else who thinks they are God.
“He has given man the intelligence to have palliative care and hospice care, but He has also given man a choice and a conscious.”
Last year, the Vatican reiterated its opposition to euthanasia and assisted suicide, labelling it as “intrinsically evil” in “every situation or circumstance”.
But Ms Qualmann, who still identifies as a Catholic, believes euthanasia as the best response to intolerable burdens of pain and unnecessary suffering as her life-limiting illness continues to progress.
“I have always supported voluntary assisted dying in general terms, but it wasn’t until I was diagnosed as terminal that it really hit that I don’t have a choice in this and that is traumatic,” she said.
“You choose to have a baby, you choose to get married – all through life you have a choice – except at your death.
“It is my choice how I end my story and any person with a terminal illness will tell you they want to end their story their way.
“They didn’t live life to end up suffering and having their families watch them suffer.
“We have wonderful palliative care and hospice care, but if either of those options does not suit the position of someone with a terminal illness, what other choice do we have?”
Parliamentarians will soon debate legalising euthanasia for the 17th time in the last quarter of a century, with Labor introducing identical bills in the Upper House and the House of Assembly late last year.
Labor heavyweight and former Mount Gambier resident Kyam Mayer emotionally remembered watching the painful death of his mother and community stalwart Viv while introducing the landmark proposal to the Legislative Council.
The opposition frontbencher tearfully spoke about Ms Maher, who passed away of pancreatic cancer in 2017, describing her death as “far from the peaceful, dignified end of life she or any other person deserves”.
The bill is based on the Victorian model, which provides people with incurable, advanced and progressive diseases who are expected to die within six months access to voluntary assisted dying.
The nine step process requires individuals to ask their doctor for information about voluntary assisted dying before being assessed by two doctors who have completed training in assessing people for voluntary dying to see if requirements are met.
Under the proposed law, a 10-day wait period will be implemented between a request and the issuing of a permit.
A report tabled in Victorian Parliament on Wednesday found since the scheme was established in June 2019, 581 people have been assessed for eligibility for euthanasia and 405 permits have been issued.
According to the report, the average age of people able to access the scheme in Victoria is 71 years.
Voluntary assisted dying advocate and A Peaceful End convenor Angie Miller said it was heartbreaking that terminally ill South Australians living just 20 minutes from the Victorian border were unable to access euthanasia due to the state’s legal prohibition.
“Jane and I drove to the Victorian border and it is crazy to think that people who live so close to the border don’t have the same end of life choices,” she said.
“Not one more person is going to die under the voluntary assisted dying bill because it is so strict with its safeguards, but less people are going to suffer.
“At the End of Life Choices committee, SA Police said 10 people had taken their lives as a result of terminal illness since January 2019 and the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federal SA Branch presented evidence which showed jurisdictions where assisted dying legislation has been enacted the palliative care sector has strengthened.
“Part of our campaign is also to increase palliative care funding and in states where voluntary assisted dying is available there is actually an increase in funding as people aren’t as afraid to talk about death and it becomes part of a more accepted conversation.”
Politicians have been permitted a free vote on the bill when it is debated in coming weeks, allowing individual MPs to vote according to their own personal conscience as opposed to an official party line.
Liberal Member for MacKillop Nick McBride has indicated he will support voluntary assisted dying laws, while Limestone Coast Labor parliamentarian Clare Scriven will vote against the bill in the Upper House.
Member for Mount Gambier Troy Bell, who voted down the bill during the 2016 debate, has since pledged to support the new proposal which has strict eligibility criteria and provisions for dispensing the lethal medication.
Ms Qualmann praised the independent MP for indicating support for euthanasia, with Mr Bell attributing his change of heart on the controversial issue to the death of a family member due to cancer.
“It takes a lot of courage for him to change his mind especially in the Limestone Coast where it is a very conservative area,” she said.
“I hope Mount Gambier and the Limestone Coast gets right behind him.
“I don’t want to suffer and I don’t want my family to suffer.
“All I want is a choice.”
HAVE YOUR SAY – firstname.lastname@example.org