Elation as SA votes for dignity

After 26 years and 17 attempts, voluntary assisted dying legislation has passed the parliament of South Australia, giving terminally ill people in SA the choice to pass away with dignity.

Mount Gambier’s Jane Qualmann, pictured – who advocated locally and on the steps of parliament for compassion for people suffering at the end of their lives, says her reaction was “relief and elation”. “I’m ecstatic that it’s through and that people now have a choice,” Ms Qualmann told The SE Voice.

Spearheaded by Mount Gambier’s Kyam Maher, and Dr Susan Close, the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill passed last week, after securing the support of SA’s Upper and Lower houses. It makes South Australia the fourth Australian state to legalise voluntary assisted dying legislation.

Voting in favour of the legislation were regional MPs Troy Bell and Nick McBride. Member of the Upper House Clare Scriven, who is based in the South East, voted against the bill. Ms Qualmann numbers among the South Australians who would use voluntary assisted dying to pass with dignity, as someone with a terminal diagnosis who will have no quality of life in her final days.

She has been diagnosed with three chronic illnesses, including an extremely rare, neurogenetic bowel syndrome that causes blockages of her bowels, which are being treated with high-end painkillers. Her next bowel blockage, she said, will be her last and without voluntary assisted dying, she will be put in palliative care, where her pain will not be able to be treated.

Due to her bowel syndrome, Ms Qualmann has difficulty absorbing pain medication, especially morphine. Separately, Ms Qualmann said that despite her conditions, she does not qualify for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) or the Disability Support Pension (DSP).

At 58, she does not qualify for aged care services either. “I know of myself, when I received my diagnosis they said they cannot do anything for my pain and that I’m going to be in extreme pain, and I do not want that,” she said. “I want to be able to see my family and go before all the ‘yuck’ happens. “At this end of my life, I thought that I need to be able to advocate and do something for others.”

Across South Australia, voluntary assisted dying is supported by an overwhelming majority of people, with a national poll by Roy Morgan finding 83% of South Australians support it. According to advocacy group Voluntary Assisted Dying South Australia, it is anticipated that voluntary assisted dying will be available in our state by mid to late 2022.

But Ms Qualmann told The SE Voice that she will not be able to access it. Modelled from Victoria’s legislation, SA’s bill has been described as among the most conservative in the world: Before a person who is terminally ill can access voluntary assisted dying, a plethora of conditions need to be met and multiple layers of oversight are in place.

The conditions are such that not even Ms Qualmann can access it, as she does not have a specific timeline for her terminal diagnosis – it could be today, it could be tomorrow, next month or next year. “It’s not easy to access, but it covers everything,” Ms Qualmmann said of the bill. “I will not be able to access it. “I will not have time to access the safeguards.”

A former nun with the Sisters of Saint Joseph who has believed in voluntary assisted dying since her youth, Ms Qualmann has always advocated that “if I cannot access it, someone out there can”. For a person to be eligible for access to voluntary assisted dying, they must be 18 years old or over, be an Australian citizen or permanent resident and a resident in South Australia.

The person must have decision making capacity in relation to voluntary assisted dying, and the person must be diagnosed with a disease, illness or medical condition that is incurable, that is advanced, progressive and will cause death within weeks or months, not exceeding six months.

The condition must be causing intolerable suffering to the person, before they can then further the process to access voluntary assisted dying.

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