Watching a bill to legalise euthanasia pass in South Australia’s Lower House proved an “emotional night” for campaigners Brett and Liz Habermann, whose son Rhys wanted access to voluntary assisted dying after being diagnosed with terminal bone cancer.
- The bill to legalise euthanasia was debated for six hours before MPs voted in favour of it
- The Habermanns are advocates for voluntary assisted dying after their son Rhys took his own life
- Rhys was 17 when he was diagnosed with bone cancer
The legislation was debated into the early hours of this morning before MPs voted 33 to 11 in favour of giving terminally-ill patients the right to end their lives with the use of a lethal drug.
Several amendments were added to the bill, which now has to go back to the Upper House to be ratified before euthanasia can be legalised.
Over the past four years, the Habermann family has been advocating for voluntary assisted dying after watching their son, Rhys, make the heart-breaking decision to take his own life rather than go through palliative care.
Rhys was just 19 years old when he made the decision — 18 months after his terminal diagnosis.
They made the decision to be with their son for those final moments, which resulted in an 18-month police investigation.
The family was eventually cleared of any involvement.
Mr and Mrs Habermann were in Parliament to see the bill pass and said they felt a sense of calm watching as it was debated.
“It’s bittersweet really, it’s fantastic that no other families have to go through what we did after the death of their loved one, like what we went through with Rhys — or more so the investigating afterwards,” Mrs Habermann said.
“It just gives people choice. It’s still going to be hard, but just the fact that people have a choice now — they don’t have to choose to die in horrific ways that cause massive trauma.”
Mrs Habermann said her family had received a lot of empathy from others who also supported the bill, but had also spoken to many people who were against it.
She said she was not concerned that the legalisation of euthanasia would be abused or put vulnerable people, such as the elderly, at risk.
“I can’t see that such a bill is going to make [abusing euthanasia] an even worse situation and also just the fact that they have got a choice to not use it … but at least the people that need it have got that choice now.”
The Habermanns and other supporters of the bill celebrated it passing the Lower House with a drink.
“It was an emotional night,” Mrs Habermann said.
‘Relatively superficial’ debate
Professor Ian Olver, a bioethicist and cancer researcher at the University of Adelaide, said it was disappointing the legislation had passed.
He encouraged the community to consider alternatives like palliative care and counselling first.
“You’d at least like everyone to have had access to palliative care and counselling so that their physical symptoms and psychological issues can be dealt with, but the counselling so they can explore options they have for making life with the constraints of illness as meaningful as possible,” he said.
He said the debate in Parliament was “relatively superficial” over such an important issue and “mainly based on regrettable but highly emotive cases that appeared not to have had good palliative care and counselling in many cases”.
If the bill and its amendments pass the Upper House, South Australia will become the fourth state after Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania to make voluntary-assisted dying legal.