I knew that as soon as I mentioned the words “euthanasia clinic” some stakeholders in this emotive debate would have apoplexy. Sure enough, Armageddon is now on the horizon. At least that is how some portray the future as it relates to the quiet, leafy, inner-city suburb of Walkerville in Adelaide.
When my wife and I purchased an old corner grog shop, and local icon, in Adelaide last month, we were keen that our plans for a home base for Exit International would finally be realised.
For many years HQ was Darwin but with the ever-decreasing likelihood of the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act being revived as successive Labor and conservative governments showed little interest in the issue, it was inevitable that our gaze would turn southwards.
Several years ago when I started dividing my time between Darwin and Adelaide, initially in order to be closer to my 95-year-old mother who has joined the ranks of unhappy residents of a nursing home, a return to the city of my youth was not on the cards. Increasingly, however, such a move made sense.
Not least because of this state’s proud history on progressive social issues; votes for women, gay rights (thank you Don Dunstan), the arts and culture and so on. Being closer to the east coast would also ease the stress and cost of my frequent travel, freeing Exit’s resources to be spent in a more worthwhile manner.
“And so here I am by the Torrens River, ready to dispense information and advice to an ever-increasingly number of baby boomers-plus who have seen what a bad death can look like …”
What I didn’t expect in setting up in Adelaide was the resistance that I have encountered from Sinead Bernardi, wife of well-known Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi. Mrs Bernardi said this of her husband in 2011, in a story in The Monthly:
“Cory obviously has this huge belief in himself … If you didn’t love a guy who was so in love with himself you’d have a lot of trouble living with Cory. Life — I don’t think he’d mind me saying this — it’s all about Cory. I am all about Cory, and he is all about Cory, so it makes it easy.”
As it happens, Mrs B is cutting her political teeth as a local councillor in the Walkerville area, just as I launched my bid to relocate here. While my immediate neighbours have had little negative to say on the clinic/ home office facility — call it what you will — Mrs B has told the media that she finds my new home office very scary. “It was the first I heard about it, and frankly I’m disgusted,” she told InDaily. “I have had no notification about this … setting up a euthanasia clinic in a suburban street … it’s very, very scary.”
This hostility contrasts with the views of old Alvin up the street who reckons it’s a good idea, telling the ABC that such a facility was long overdue. One might add, just like voluntary euthanasia law reform. But that’s another story (by the way, legislation attempting to legalise voluntary euthanasia in SA is currently before Parliament).
And so here I am by the Torrens River, ready to dispense information and advice to an ever-increasingly number of baby boomers-plus who have seen what a bad death can look like and know they don’t want to go there themselves. While the membership of Exit has long had an average age of 75 years, my generation is fast coming on.
It may be too late to help my mother; once institutionalised one’s option plummet, but I know that I can help myself and others like me.
And this is the point of the clinic.
In one sense the internet has changed the game of life as we know it. With good broadband I can meet and consult with members irrespective of location; here, interstate overseas. In Walkerville I have a quiet and well set-out office and studio for such e-consultations and laboratory facilities that can offer euthanasia drug assay services, and research into new peaceful death methods.
For those who are local, one-on-one visits can be arranged. I’ve always done this although the more seriously ill a person, the more likely it is that I will be the one to go to them. Suffering from some devastating disease should not be exacerbated. I’m the last person who should add to that person’s pain, existential and/ or physical.
While it was never envisaged that my move to Adelaide would be such a public affair, in some ways this has been positive. In week one I’ve talked to the Mayor, met with the Acting Mayor and senior executives of the council, none of whom seem to share Mrs B’s strong concerns.
I’ve also had a friendly “getting to know me” visit from detectives from major crime squad of the SA Police. I was tempted to show them my pink scooter (not quite a Mongrel machine) but played it safe, restricting discussion to voluntary euthanasia and related issues.
All this in between my wife’s appointments with the curtains man, the flooring man and the security technician. Who said moving house was easy?