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The personal story behind the ACT's VAD law

ACT Human Rights Minister Tara Cheyne has revealed what drove her to tirelessly champion a voluntary assisted dying law for the territory.

In her twenties, Cheyne had watched her father, Peter, suffer greatly and die in pain after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. His decline was swift, and the formerly ‘literary and maths genius’ who was a whiz at cryptic crossroads soon struggled to write his phone number and stopped reading.

Peter, a former restaurant owner, played a pivotal role in his daughter’s life.

Cheyne described in her first speech after being elected as the Member for Ginninderra how her father was a stay-at-home-dad while her mother Deb worked in the mining industry in various Queensland towns. 

“He remains the cleverest person I have ever known. There was nothing he could not do with his brain or his hands,’’ she said.

“He created a voracious reader in me, and we would go to the local library together twice a week. As an only child, he was often my only company, and he was the best company.”

Peter, a rural fire brigade and local coastguard volunteer, took his daughter to the library twice a week and learnt how to tie her hair in a ponytail.

He built his daughter a T-ball stand in the backyard and helped her practice after she was upset at being picked last for the school team.


On 5 June, the ACT parliament decisively passed the ACT VAD Bill 2023 by 20 votes to 5. During the final stages of debate, Cheyne became emotional as she dedicated the bill to her father and described their harrowing last interaction.

Peter, by then in hospital, had had botulism injected into his tumours in an effort to manage the pain, and a catheter inserted because he was at risk of falling. 

“He forgot that [he’d had the catheter], so his final interaction was yelling and swearing at me because I was stopping him from getting up and going to the bathroom,’’ Cheyne said, fighting back tears. 

Her father, a private and proud man, “felt I was directly causing him indignity”. 

“When our last conversation could have been one of love, he was cursing me; and when our last touch we both remembered could have been a hug, it was a wrestle.

“That’s not my dad… it’s not a story I tell, maybe ever, and it’s not how I choose to remember him.

And that’s not how he thought of me.”

A better death 

Cheyne said her father should have had the choice of a better death, like many other people who died suffering before VAD laws were enacted: “A better death, to reflect what had been a wonderful life”.

"There's no guarantee he would have pursued voluntary assisted dying, I suspect he probably wouldn’t have,’’ she told the legislative assembly.

“But he and countless like him should have had the option, the choice at the end of their life about how they die when they are intolerably suffering.”

She paid tribute to all who had advocated for VAD over the years, particularly patients suffering terminal illness.

“To those who died waiting and wanting, and to those whose memories we pursue this work in honour of, because we know there can be a better death.”

She also paid special tribute to former NT chief minister Marshall Perron, who led the passing of the world's first assisted dying law in the NT in 1995 before it was overturned by the federal parliament. Also acknowedged were Bob Dent, the first person to die under the NT's law and his wife Judy, who has tirelessly campaigned to see territory rights restored and new VAD laws introduced.

Cheyne’s political inspiration, former Labor backbencher Mary Porter, was also a staunch advocate for voluntary assisted dying. 

VAD will be available to eligible Canberrans on 3 November 2025 after an 18-month implementation period. 

Read ‘We’ve done it’: ACT passes VAD law


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