Go Gentle was founded in 2016 by broadcaster Andrew Denton. We are a charity working nationally to promote choice at the end of life, including the option of voluntary assisted dying.
Our vision is an Australia where we all are empowered to choose the end-of-life care that is right for us. We have been instrumental in passing voluntary assisted dying laws in all six states.
Voluntary assisted dying laws allow terminally ill, mentally competent adults with 6-12 months left to live to request help from their doctor to end their suffering. Voluntary assisted dying is also sometimes called assisted dying, voluntary euthanasia or medical assistance to die.
My father Kit died a painful death. Morphine couldn't relieve his distress. Though everybody at the hospital did their best, the law at the time meant that nobody would (or could) do what was needed. Instead, my father endured a drawn out death that none of us – least of all he – wanted. It was heartbreaking.
In the years that followed, I was shocked to learn how many others shared this experience, also scarred by a loved one's needless suffering. I collected many of these testimonies into a book called The Damage Done. The pages were filled with the distress, confusion and sorrow that ‘bad deaths’ leave in their wake. It was a damning account of dying in Australia.
Hearing them I couldn't let go of a thought: Why are good people being forced to die bad deaths?
It was a question that led me to found this charity, Go Gentle Australia. We have played a pivotal role in passing voluntary assisted dying laws across Australia to allow people who are at the end of life and suffering intolerably to seek medical assistance to end that suffering.
The laws are about choice, compassion and returning control to people who have had so much taken away by their illness.
Despite overwhelming public support for these laws, persuading our politicians to support them has been a Herculean effort. When we first tried in South Australia’s parliament in 2016, we were defeated. Victoria, the first state to pass a law in 2017, was a bruising fight. WA followed in 2019. It wasn't until 2021 that other Australian states finally embraced end-of-life choice, with three passing laws; Tasmania, South Australia and Queensland. New South Wales did the same in 2022. Only the ACT and Northern Territory are yet to pass laws but that too could soon change.
A revolution in end-of-life care, and an evolution in compassion
As each law takes effect, we have heard grateful families describe the ‘beautiful’ and ‘peaceful’ deaths of those they loved; the man with motor neurone disease able to enjoy time with his family, reassured that he won’t suffer needlessly in his final weeks; the woman with cancer who describes her “perfect last day” surrounded by family and friends as she says goodbye; the much loved mother and grandmother, whose children caressed her as she quietly passed away. Just as powerful, the doctors grateful to offer their patients a choice when they need it most.
Yet I often think about all the people, like my dad, for whom these laws did not come soon enough. In their memory, we must continue our fight.
Passing these laws is only the first step. Now, we must make sure they are accessible to all who need them. And we must protect them from opponents who have declared their ambition to see them dismantled, state by state.
Like many Australians, I feel great comfort that if I, or someone I love, is diagnosed with a terminal illness there will be the choice of compassionate voluntary assisted dying. I hope you feel the same.
Thank you for being part of this incredible journey.