Physician-assisted death campaigner Peter Short dies at 57

Euthanasia campaigner: Peter Short. Photo: Joe ArmaoPhysician-assisted death campaigner Peter Short, whose advocacy and plight inspired draft dying-with-dignity legislation in the Federal Parliament, has died aged 57.

Mr Short passed away peacefully on Monday morning, in palliative care and with wife Elizabeth holding his hand.

Mr Short’s campaign was based on his belief that it was undignified for terminally ill to not have the choice to end their own lives under carefully controlled circumstances. Mr Short was given the means and the knowledge to end his own by physician-assisted death campaigner Dr Rodney Syme.

Mr Short did not take that option.

His wife Elizabeth said Mr Short, like everybody who is given the option – albeit illegally in Australia the moment – benefited hugely because having choice removed fear and anxiety.

“The fact that Peter had the knowledge and the means to end his own life was an invaluable part of his palliation,” she said.

“It allowed him to live the remainder of his life exactly as he wanted – pushing himself as hard as he wanted, working 12 hour days in his support of the proposed dying with dignity legislation, making wonderful memories with his family and friends.

“He did not fear the end as he knew it was his to control he if so chose.”

His cousin Michael Short, editor of The Zone section in The Age, said Mr Short’s final year was made so much richer because he had that option.

“Peter embodied and experienced the benefits of the change in the law he was seeking”, Michael Short said.

“Having the option is the important thing. That’s what helps people.”

In January Mr Short was told his oesophageal cancer – in remission for five years – had returned, and would kill him. At the time, his doctor told him he had only five months to live, a prognosis he would significantly outlive.

After his diagnosis, Mr Short became a fierce campaigner for the right of the terminally ill to have choice at the end of their lives.

He worked closely with federal Greens senator Richard Di Natale on the development of a bill that would make it legal for doctors to help terminally ill, mentally competent adults end their lives.

Senator Di Natale, the Greens health spokesman, introduced the draft legislation earlier this year. It was referred to a Liberal-led all-party senate committee, which held national hearings and received many submissions.

The committee, led by Liberal senator Ian Macdonald, recommended a free vote in the Parliament for the legislation, and supported its passage.

That bill is expected to come before the Senate next year. When it is introduced, the senator hopes to have it co-sponsored by an MP from each major party.

For months before his death Mr Short sought a meeting with Prime Minister Tony Abbott to urge support for the bill and a free vote for Coalition MPs.

Mr Abbott rang Mr Short days before his death, and during a half-hour conversation pledged his MPs would be given a free vote should the bill reach the floor of the Parliament.

That was like reaching “the top of a mountain”, Mr Short told The Age at the time.

A month ago The Age ran a week-long campaign in support of a change to the law to allow physician-assisted death in strictly regulated circumstances.

Much of his story he documented himself, on his blog Tic Toc Tic Toc dying to a killer clock.

On Monday his wife Elizabeth posted the final entry.

“My beautiful husband Pete died this morning at 12:20am. He died peacefully and I was privileged enough to be sitting on his bed holding his hand at that time.

“Pete’s decision to opt for palliative care brought him to a place of calmness and serenity and for all of us, safety and security. It allowed Pete to relax, stop fighting and go calmly to his happy place.

“Thank you all so much for your constant love and support, it has meant the world to us.”

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