WARNING: This story has footage of voluntary euthanasia. Some readers may find it disturbing.
For two years the family of euthanasia advocate Max Bromson has lived in fear of criminal prosecution.
Max died in July 2014 at age 66, but not of the bone cancer that made his last years so painful.
Instead, with a camera rolling, he died surrounded by his family after taking a fatal dose of euthanasia drug Nembutal.
His death sparked a police and coronial investigation into what role his family may have played in his death. Their cameras, computers and the controversial footage of his final moments were seized as evidence.
“The reason we filmed it was probably for legal reasons, to show that we had nothing to do with assisting him, that it was his choice,” Kerry Bromson, Max’s sister, told 7.30.
“I think we were naive, I think we all went in quite blind.
“We were doing it out of love for our brother, or father, it wasn’t a conscious thing about what would happen out of this.”
Now the family has been cleared of any wrongdoing and the footage can be seen publicly for the first time.
Planning his exit
Two years ago Max’s family came together in a small motel room to watch him die.
“He [Max] went with his daughter, and I went with my nephew and brother in the other car,” Kerry said.
“Why he picked that motel, we don’t know.”
Kerry was holding the camera. The images she took captured the last stage in a fight that had dominated Max’s final years.
Max had been diagnosed with terminal bone cancer in 2009 and given six months to live. Doctors told him it would be a painful road and Max was already experiencing significant pain.
“It’s just excruciating, you know? You want to climb the wall if you could, and no amount of medication will control that,” he told the ABC in 2012.
So Max made plans for an early exit. Those plans took him to Philip Nitschke’s euthanasia advocacy group, Exit International.
“To do it yourself will require a deal of strength and commitment … That’s fine, I have my head around that,” Max said.
“That’s because there isn’t a legal alternative.”
While the family broadly knew what Max was planning he kept the details to himself.
“I don’t know when he obtained the Nembutal, I have absolutely no idea,” Kerry said.
“And I think because of the legal aspect of it he never said a lot, he never told us a lot regarding what he’d done or how he’d done it. We just knew that when the time was right he had a choice.”
Watch the footage released by the family
‘I don’t want to be forced to do something illegal’
As his condition worsened Max became increasingly vocal about his support for voluntary euthanasia. At the 2013 federal election he ran as a Senate candidate in South Australia.
“I don’t want to be forced to do something that is illegal, because there is no law that allows us to go peacefully. So I have to fight them,” he said.
“He took on the political role because he wanted a voice out there, and he just wanted to see if he could make a difference in the short time that he had left,” Kerry said.
In early 2014, Max Bromson took his fight to Canberra. Kerry was by his side.
“I accompanied him to Canberra … I don’t think anyone could ascertain the effort that it took for him to get there, and what it took out of him to actually do that,” she said.
“He knew he didn’t have long, and he would have done whatever he could’ve for the cause.”
Weeks later in Adelaide it became obvious Max was becoming increasingly frail.
“It just became more difficult for him to move around,” Kerry said.
“If you’d seen the x-rays, you wondered how he could stand, because his bones were sort of shattered within his frame.”
Max began to fear that if he didn’t act soon he’d need help to take the Nembutal.
And if that happened, whoever helped could be charged with assisting his suicide.
It was something Max wanted to avoid at all costs.
“You have to be well enough and in control of your functions to be able to take care of the act of suiciding yourself,” he said in 2012.
“You can’t have anyone help you or involve anyone in that process.
“I will choose my own time of departure, and that I have chosen a preferred method of departure.”
‘I can’t wait, I can’t. Not any longer, I can’t take it’
In the end, that moment came quickly. Max arranged the motel room and called the family to gather.
“He was exhausted,” Kerry said.
“He just said to us, ‘I can’t wait, I can’t. Not any longer, I can’t take it.'”
In the video, Max can be seen drinking the full dose of Nembutal.
“And he just said, ‘It’s time’ … and he mixed his cocktail together, and he took it,” Kerry said.
“It’s bloody bitter,” Max said.
He was offered a final drink to wash it down.
“He was having a joke himself, he was making fun of things, as we were too,” Kerry recalled.
“One of his last comments was, ‘Thank god I don’t have to have another shower,’ because the water hitting his body was just excruciating.”
The family said their good-byes but took care not to help.
Almost three minutes after drinking his Nembutal Max fell unconscious and later died.
“It was just lovely to be with him, it was lovely to see him at peace,” Kerry said, choking on her tears.
“I’m so proud of him. It takes bloody guts to do that.”
Today in South Australia a new bill to legalise voluntary euthanasia was introduced to State Parliament and is expected to be debated in coming weeks.
Regardless of the outcome there, Kerry and her family will continue the fight.
“It’s part of the whole story of Max, what he fought for, what he believed in. It’s about about how now, we want some reform, we want there to be a right for people to make a choice and not go through what we went through as a family,” she said.