PUSH FOR VAD: Virus dashes woman’s hope for peaceful death
As most Australians look to the new year ahead, Carina woman Tanya Battel's goal is to give suffering Queenslanders, including herself, the opportunity to die peacefully, on their own terms.
The 57-year-old mother of two wants a perscription for peace of mind after battling chronic cancer for the past 25 years, and after she was told it was incurable in 2016, had made plans to take her own life by legal assisted suicide at a time before her quality of life deteriorates.
She initially considered packing up everything and moving down to Victoria when voluntary euthanasia legislation was introduced there, so that she could meet the residency requirement.
"We thought that was a big one because you're away from your family and friends," Tanya said.
Then when her disease progressed in 2018, she made application to a facility on the other side of the world in Switzerland.
"What freaks me out is knowing what is to come," she said.
"I just thought I need to do something."
That was before the COVID-19 global pandemic ground international travel to a halt and Australians were banned from overseas travel.
Tanya's gruelling battles with cancer left her unable to leave her home without careful planning due to her intestinal issues and diarrhoea and doctors have ruled out a chance of recovery.
She knows better than anyone how her disease will play out, having seen the end of life struggles of many metastatic breast cancer sufferers and researching the gruesome complications, as well as witnessing her own parents waste away from diseases while she was young.
With voluntary assisted dying still in the early stages of discussion at the political level in Queensland, Tanya is devastated because she will likely die in agony before they are introduced.
"It's like all options have been removed," she said.
"You have to be well enough to travel, which is what's awful.
"Especially when you know how your disease is going to play out.
"[The disease] is awful, it's really bloody awful. It's one of the most awful diseases."
Switzerland in recent years has become a final travel destination for those seeking to take advantage of their voluntary euthanasia laws, including renowned Australian scientist David Goodall at 104 years old in 2018.
Patients can apply to undergo the procedure through organisations like Exit International and Dignitas, after filling out paperwork and getting a prescription for lethal medication.
But it requires a lot of paperwork and strict criteria to be met.
And this is on top of the expensive costs of a deposit and airfares from Australia to Europe, which could cost up to $20,000.
"I had conversations with my family about who would go," the mother of two said.
"It's a very personal decision who would come with me.
"Imagine going to the airport, getting on the plane, knowing that you will never go back…
"It's so wrong on so many fronts. And then your family have to travel back without you."
Long road to legalisation
It is still illegal for doctors to perform voluntary euthanasia in Tanya's home state of Queensland, but the State Government is currently going through a lengthy process to legalise voluntary assisted dying.
A parliamentary committee report on aged and palliative care made little mention of voluntary assisted dying in March 2020, and recommended the matter be investigated further.
After Labor's victory at the October 2020 election, the Queensland Law Reform Commission has been tasked with delivering legislation for voluntary euthanasia by February 2021, but has been knocked back to May.
A Queensland Government spokesman said premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is determined that voluntary euthanasia legislation is not rushed and everyone has the opportunity to have their say.
"The legislation will go before the parliament following the QLRC report," the spokesman said.
"Government members will be allowed a conscience vote."
But as Tanya still fears her suffering on a day-to-day basis, she believes the government is dragging its feet with VAD legislation.
Since her disease has progressed to her abdomen, she risks a bowel blockage at any time.
"If that happens, I wouldn't get to Switzerland, even if," she said.
"So I just pray to God that come before anything."
She believes it could take up to 2023 before the first patients will be allowed to access voluntary euthanasia in Queensland.
With withering hopes of dying on her own terms, Tanya has now dedicated the end of her life to advocacy, forming a group called Voluntary Assisted Life Ending, gathering over 75,000 signatures in a petition urging the government to fast track legislation.
She wants people to remember her as somebody who played a role in bringing about change, ensuring no Queenslander has to die an undignified death.
"Just to be part of that movement and to know that I've done my bit for others," she said.