Religious leaders and pro-life advocates have expressed sadness over news of the death of the first Victorian person under the state’s assisted suicide law and concern over comments by the Minister for Health.
Minister for Health Jenny Mikakos said the first use of Victoria’s Voluntary Assisted Dying Act by 61-year-old Kerry Robertson was “an historic moment”.
Silvana Scarfe, spokesperson for Bishop Richard Umbers who is the Australian Catholic Bishop’s delegate for life, said the Victorian’s Minister for Health Jenny Mikakos comments were “both chilling and troubling”.
“The taking of a human life should never be a cause for celebration regardless of the circumstances,” she said.
“Presenting assisted suicide and euthanasia as the only genuine and compassionate choice is both untrue and also undermines the work of palliative care experts who aim at giving the terminally ill a variety of pain-free options during the last stages of their life.”
Ms Robertson took her life on 15 July in a nursing home after being granted the first permit under the Act.
She applied for the permit on the day it passed on 19 June.
Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, the Bendigo mother of two had stopped treatment in March this year after the cancer had spread throughout her body. Ms Robertson took the medication on the same day it was dispensed by a state-wide pharmacy.
Her daughters Nicole Robertson and Jacqui Hicks said the assisted dying process took 26 days to complete.
In a written request to explain why she wanted to end her life, Ms Robertson said that she no longer had any joy.
Nicole Robertson said she and her sister were “fully supportive” of their mother’s decision and believed that it was “the most compassionate, dignified and logical option” for those suffering in the end stages of life. Team leader of the Sydney Archdiocese’s Life, Family and Outreach Office Steven Buhagiar said Ms Robertson’s death gave all Australians reason to grieve.
“Sadly, her death has been politicised and presented by the Victorian government as the ‘compassionate choice’ for those who have reached the end of their lives through sickness and disease,” he said.
“This is not the end-of-life choice that we want to become ‘normative’ in Australian society, and the risk is very real indeed especially when a tragic death like this is painted so beautifully by a State health minister of all people.
“This passing of Kerry Robertson as a direct result of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act will only place pressure on the elderly and sick who will increasingly see themselves as being a burden on their family, or even worse, will in fact be coerced into taking their own life because there is no family or friend to look out for them.”
Ms Scarfe said that greater commitment was needed from the whole community to provide more support for elderly and the terminally ill to live with purpose and authentic joy up until natural death.