‘Allow me the choice not to suffer’
Suffering intolerably with rapidly progressing motor neurone disease (MND) Queenslander John Ancliffe wants MPs to consult with terminally ill people before voting on the Voluntary Assisted Dying bill. "Please don’t sentence me to suffer needlessly against my wishes."
The Queensland parliament is due to vote on the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2021 in mid-September. The Bill’s fate is in the hands of individual MPs, each of whom has a conscience vote.
The VAD bill is now one of the most scrutinised and consulted pieces of legislation to appear before parliament
John says he’s worried debate on the bill will get bogged down in politics or philosophical issues of religious freedoms. He says VAD is above religion and politics. It’s about people.
“This most awful disease has robbed me of the twilight of my life,” he says, speaking through a digital voice enhancer. “So be it, but for the State to then sentence me to suffer until nature ends my life by restricting my breathing to the point of suffocation, I find that ridiculous, criminal and reprehensible.”
John describes the impact his illness has had on his life. In someone with MND, nerves that communicate between the brain and the muscles degenerate and die, causing the muscles to weaken. The condition can severely limit movement, speech and the ability to swallow and breathe. There is no cure.
'For the State to then sentence me to suffer until nature ends my life by restricting my breathing to the point of suffocation, I find that ridiculous, criminal and reprehensible.”
“Suddenly I have changed from an active person who worked hard, was a distance runner, played in a rock band until I was 70 and was always the big, bad wolf chasing the grandchildren, to a cripple who is unable to walk, unable to talk and who has difficulty even chewing and swallowing,” John says.
“I am well aware that this spasticity will only deteriorate until the point where I can't breathe, which of course is a terrifying prognosis.”
The lack of a voluntary assisted dying law in Queensland means John has no choice but to contemplate the alternatives.
“I determined at the time of diagnosis that I wouldn’t see this disease though to the end,” he explains. “I don’t fear death per se, although the manner of my death is obviously a worry, but the present situation in Queensland gives me only two options.
“I have been forced to have conversations with my wife and daughter that nobody should have.”
Gold Coast resident Jen Blake, John’s daughter, says a Voluntary Assisted Dying law would give her father and the rest of the family peace of mind.
“If we had a voluntary assisted dying law in place, we could have said, okay, you let us know when you're ready. We'll go on and make the most of the time we have left.
“But we haven't had that luxury. We have had to talk about the options over and over again,” Jen says.
“Dad either has to take the illness to the end and die in that undignified, painful, slow progress that the illness is going to give him, or he takes his life by his own hand.”
John’s wife Lynn supports his right to choose. “The one thing I want for John is for him to have his wish, to be able to choose when his fight is over and to be with his family when he's made that decision.
“We say to the politicians and the government: please bring in this decision for dying with dignity. John and people like him have a right to choose what they want to do with their life. He is a very brave man.”