The Role of Go Gentle Australia in Legalizing Assisted Dying [Interview] [Transcript]

Shayne_Higson_Go_Gentle_AustraliaGuests: Shayne Higson
Presenter: Wayne Bucklar
Guest Bio: Shayne Higson is a spokesperson and stakeholder liaison for Go Gentle Australia, a not-for-profit organisation established by Andrew Denton in mid 2016. She is also a current director of Dying With Dignity (NSW). Before becoming involved in the campaign for voluntary euthanasia law reform, Shayne was a photographic artist and someone who usually expressed her political opinions through her visual art. Although she has always believed in the principle of dying with dignity, it was following the death of her mother in late 2012 from an aggressive brain cancer that Shayne became passionate and vocal about the need for law reform. Just prior to joining the team at Go Gentle Australia, Shayne ran as the lead NSW Senate candidate for the Voluntary Euthanasia Party (VEP) in the 2016 Federal Election. This was her third election campaign and she was also the driving force behind the registration of the first state branch of the Voluntary Euthanasia Party in early 2014 and its State Convenor until July 2016. Shayne is dedicated to providing a voice for the thousands of families and carers who have watched loved ones suffer unnecessarily at the end of their terminal illness.

Segment overview: Shayne Higson talks about Go Gentle Australia’s role in educating patients and their families about the choice of having assisted dying. It’s a not-for-profit organization that aims to help relieve the distress and suffering experienced by Australians who have an incurable or terminable illness, and also the distress and helplessness of their families and carers. Go Gentle Australia also helps patients communicate with their families what they want at the end of their lives and their choice of having assisted dying.

Health Professional Radio – Go Gentle Australia

Wayne Bucklar: You’re listening to Health Professional Radio. My name is Wayne Bucklar and joining me today is an unusual guest for Health Professional Radio. I’m a little bit down the line of health academy and a little bit down the line of our professional care series, but kind of in the middle day. Shayne Higson joins us from Australia. Shayne, welcome to Health Professional Radio.

Shayne Higson: Hi Wayne.

W: Now Shayne, I deliberately haven’t said where you are from because I wanted you to tell us where you from and to explain what it is you do.

S: I’m the spokesperson for Go Gentle Australia which is a new organization. It was established by Andrew Denton in the middle of last year and our aim is to help relate the distress and suffering experienced by Australians who have an incurable or terminal illness, but also the distress and helplessness of their families and carers. So we argue for the right of all Australians to have a choice about what happens to them at the end of their lives. And we believe that people should not be forced to endure cruel and unavoidable suffering. Thanks to … we’ve got a high profile and over the last 9 months or so we’ve been actively involved in a campaign to introduce assisted dying laws are supported of course by the various states … the organizations who have been lobbying for to decades.

W: I did hear Andrew Denton speak at a press club breakfast where he said he was going to light a fire and it seems like he might have been a little bit successful in that.

S: Well, that’s true. Yes, we definitely feel it that we’ve made some changes that is building and we’re seeing growing support from various groups. Doctors, nurses, palliative care, cancer support groups, disability community, the elderly, the legal fraternity, and luckily a growing number of politicians from most political parties. So we’d know we’ve already got at least 75% of Australians who support the legalization of assisted dying. But we hope to galvanize that public support so that politicians can no longer ignore the suffering that it is occurring because we don’t have a law.

W: Now Shayne, many of our audience are clinicians. We have lots of doctors and nurses in both a kid care in hospitals and in aged care. And for them, the idea of assisted dying is very much an everyday in your face kind of question. Given that they work in that clinical area, what would you like them to know as a result of hearing you today?

S: Well I suppose there’s a few things. The first is that I like to point out, that assisted dying laws can and do work safely and effectively. I think it’s possible that many of your listeners may still be unaware of just how many jurisdictions around the globe have actually legalized assisted dying. Right now, there are over 200 Million people worldwide who can legally be assisted to die. In Europe, it is legal in Switzerland, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, and Luxembourg. In America, it’s legal in Oregon, Washington, Vermont, Montana, California with last year as well as Colorado, and also the district Columbia which includes the nation’s capital Washington D.C. And there’s also a number of other American states who are currently in the process of introducing similar laws. Just last week, the senate in Hawaii passed assisted dying legislation with a vote of 22 to 3. So that they will now proceed to their half representatives. But I suppose in my opinion, one of the most significant country to legalize assisted dying recently is Canada. Because I think that their society is probably a very close to ours in terms of value. Probably, one of the most surprising countries is Colombia in South America. But the reason why so many jurisdictions are now legalizing assisted dying is because they’ve been operating for many years. In the case of Oregon, it’s 20 years. And they’ve been proven to work safely and effectively. They provide a compassionate choice basically in the face of under … suffering at the end of life. That would be one of the points. Also, I basically like to say that, to continue to deny dying patients, a choice. Basically means that people that they continue to suffer. Again, I’m sure your listeners in particular, will be well aware the fact that despite, the very base to palliative care, there’s still some patients who will experience some … suffering and what many of us refer to is bad deaths. My own mother, with one example she died from an aggressive brain cancer and the end stage which really awful. Despite the fact that she was treated by one of Sydney’s top palliative care specialist. So bad day is a really traumatic for the patient but they’re also traumatic for the family and I’m pretty sure that it’s traumatic to the medical staff as well especially the nurses inside who work on the front line and support the patient and family. And we know that the nurses are very supportive. Hopefully, with their support and others, we might see law … because the problem is, with palliative care, they want to deliberately hasten the death so under the current law, a fear of prosecution can make doctors hesitant to provide pain relief in great quantities for fear that this it’s going to have a secondary effect of shortened life. And we notice some doctors who do deliberately hasten the death but they do risk prosecution so most doctors don’t take that risk. Probably, the third point that I’d like to surface is that the people not to be fooled by the scare … from our opponents and to please look at the evidence because opponents of assisted dying will say just about anything to block … They claim that everyone’s at risk; children, disabled, the elderly, even the frail and the lonely, they claim if we introduce these laws people will literally murdered by the state. These claims really show just how desperate they’re getting, but the truth is that these laws, once they’re proposed here in Australia after a very small number of people. The laws in Victoria, New South Wales in Australia that are all being drafted after patients who are suffering from a terminal illness. But not only do they have to have a terminal illness, you also have to be an adult, you have to be mentally competent, you have to be at the end stage of this terminal illness, and you have to be suffering. And there are of course many other safeguards such as two independent doctors have to confirm the prognosis … the request, there’s cooling off periods etc. And most importantly, only the dying patient can make the request. The laws are completely voluntary, not just for the patient but also for the doctors and nurses so no one’s is going to be forced to take part no matter what the reasons for objecting. And I think probably, it’s also possible that listeners may not realize that we’re talking about assisted dying and not voluntary euthanasia. The difference of being that if the patient qualifies, a doctor is not giving a lethal injection. That’s … doing in Belgium and the Netherlands. But they simply watching the prescription from medication which the patient being … if and when at the time it becomes necessary. That’s how it works in America, that’s the model that most states are following. And for many people, just having that control is enough. It’s have a really excellent palliative effect. In Oregon, where they had the law for 20 years. Nearly, 40% of patients died in that taking the medication. So yes and those are the numbers, quite small in Oregon, less than half of their number of deaths.

W: You’re listening in the Health Professional Radio. My name is Wayne Bucklar. My guest today is Shayne Higson, who’s talking on behalf of Go Gentle Australia. And we’ve been talking about the work of Go Gentle on Australia and in particular, assisted dying legislation. Now Shayne, why do you think this is such a difficult question for legislatures because it’s been in parliaments before on Australia, hasn’t it?

S: Oh yes, it has been over 50 attempts to legalize assisted dying. Some might say it’s difficult because it’s literally a matter of life and death but I feel that there are 2 key factors talking it. First, there are conservative elements both in the church and the medical profession creating the culture of fear. And second, too many politicians and sadly, probably doctors as well and not age … have these laws actually work. We saw that this happened a recent debate in South Australia where the ‘dying with dignity’ deal with narrowly defeated. There was a tied vote of 23 all and this peak had to use a custom vote to reject that bill, that was just in November. While some did openly opposed that particular bill under religious grounds, other were heavily influenced by really carefully orchestrated campaign of fear and misinformation propagated by both religious groups but also some sections in the medical community. Sometimes, that influence is cohort for example, family first put pressure on some MPs in marginal seats and threaten to preference against them at the next election if they supported the bill. And then other times it was sort of more public with priests literally instructing their congregations to complain to their local members about the dangers of state sanctioned killing, they called it. Many of the MPs actually took up that phrase ‘state sanctioned killing’ in a debate even though the laws that are being proposed there and being proposed in other states, basically to help people who are being killed by disease, so not by the state and the decision about whether they actually do end their suffering caused by the disease. It’s solely in the hands of the patient so it’s far from state sanctioned killing. But we had the Catholic-based stand to euthanasia a lovely great called ‘Hope’ and also the Australian Christian lobby basically bombarding MPs, even as latest … debate with misinformation.

W: It is certainly topic that brings up lots of passion amongst the various sides of the debate. Shayne, I hope that today our audience, gets a little passionate about it, how can I get more information on how can they get in touch with you?

S: Well Go Gentle Australia has a website. It’s, but there’s also a lot of other websites Dying with Dignity Organizations in every state, have good websites and they’re very informative. And there’s also similar organizations in Canada, the UK, and America. I’ve been involved with this campaign for 4 years now and I’d also be happy to personally ask any questions that your listeners have. So they can email me directly, my e-mail address is or they can even called me on my mobile and happy to get my mobile out, it’s 0428 326 358. Because I know that people as I said, not everyone has the same information and I’m happy to answer questions and I really do believe that when people learn the facts about assisted dying, I think that they will support to giving people that choice. It may not be a choice if they would make for themselves perhaps, but I think once they know the facts, they’ll no longer than I have people the choice with this unrelievable suffering at the end of life.

W: Shayne, I know you are very busy with what’s going on. Thank you for your time and thank you for your passionate viewpoint today.

S: Thanks very much Wayne.

W: And listeners you’re on Health Professional Radio. If you’d like to know more about the work that Shayne is doing with Go Gentle Australia or indeed, you’d like to support the campaign, please head off to the website, there are opportunities there for you to both educate yourself and to contribute your assistance to that campaign. You’re listening in the Health Professional Radio, my name is Wayne Bucklar.

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