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His final days were terrible

A Commonwealth law that discourages the use of telehealth for voluntary assisted dying is having devastating consequences for some dying Australians. Barry Woodbury was one of them.

Barry Woodbury, happily married with five children, was living in Esperance on Western Australia's far south coast when he was diagnosed with bowel cancer.

His was a very rapid decline, with not even two months between his diagnosis and death at the age of 82 years. Even though Barry’s wish was to use voluntary assisted dying (VAD), there were numerous delays to his case, with some initial emails not being picked up quickly enough. As the weeks went on, he told his daughter with increasing frustration,

I wanna be out of here. Just get me out of here.

By the time Barry’s case progressed, he was in significant pain. Sheila, Barry's daughter puts the initial delay down to teething problems in a new system, however, what happened next cannot be as easily explained.

Barry was subjected to 2-3 additional weeks of agonising suffering at the end of his life due to the prohibition on using telehealth to discuss VAD medication. This Commonwealth law meant that Barry, whose VAD assessment had taken place entirely via videoconference (as is permitted under WA’s guidelines), had to make his final request for VAD in person.

To do this, his doctor had to travel to him. Cancelled flights combined with his remote location resulted in complications and delays.

Even with his doctor acting as fast as she could, Barry’s final evening saw Sheila restraining him in bed as he begged for the VAD medication.

"As soon as the doctor arrived, he just said he wanted to get it done and get out of here. She [the doctor] made it easier for him, but I wish it had been two weeks’ earlier. His final days were terrible", Sheila explained.

Skin on bone, that’s all he was. I think he was hanging in there, to try and see one of my sisters who hadn’t got there yet.

Sheila says her dad wanted to go out with dignity; that even though his body was failing, his mind was alert.

When[the doctor] got final consent, he said 'I just want to go, I’ve had enough'.

Sheila continued:

"They just need to stop making life so difficult for people and allow telehealth to be used where face-to-face just isn’t possible, or causes excessive delays. They need to put themselves in these people’s shoes and see how hard it is for them - for the doctors and the patients. They wouldn’t like their own family to go the way they made my dad go - prolonging his agony.

"Dad always said it was ridiculous you could help your terminally ill pet to die if it was suffering, but not a human. He didn’t want to be kept alive on machines if anything happened to him. He would have shown his horses mercy, but when it came to him he had to die a slow, painful death."

Sheila's final observation:

"People don’t ask for this if they don’t need it. It’s not an easy decision to make.’

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