Veteran Victorian firefighter Troy Thornton has died in a Swiss euthanasia clinic, leaving a powerful message for Australian politicians and voters.
He wanted the nation to think deeply about the concept of dying well, and to challenge the notion that choosing death is somehow wrong.
The 54-year-old died by lethal injection late on Friday, Australian time. His wife Christine was there to hold his hand, but he died without his two teenage children by his side after being met on arrival by euthanasia campaigner Philip Nitschke.
Zurich airport, waiting for Troy Thornton, planned Swiss assisted suicide, courageous Aust fireman, sad, but nice too that at least this option exists! pic.twitter.com/uYpCcbHUJW
— Philip Nitschke (@philipnitschke) February 18, 2019
Mr Thornton desperately wished he have could legally end his life at home in Australia, with all those he loved around him.
His mother, Barbara Spencer, made her farewell on Facebook, writing that she was with him in spirit as he took his “final journey”.
“To my beautiful son Troy, I feel so proud of you and all you have achieved not only in your working life but a wonderful family man ,” she wrote.
“My heart aches for you today.
“I am sending my love and hope you feel it in your heart my arms are wrapped around you they will be as you take your final journey.
“Rest In Peace my Boy. I love you and will carry you in my heart forever.”
A total disgrace that this brave man was prevented from obtaining the help he needed in this country when he chose to end his own life. It's as if the government thinks it owns us. https://t.co/Uq5jtyEJtC via @brisbanetimes
— David Leyonhjelm (@DavidLeyonhjelm) February 23, 2019
Despite Victoria becoming the first state to legalise voluntary assisted dying, Mr Thornton didn’t qualify. His disease – multiple system atrophy – is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder. There are no treatments and there is no prospect of recovery, but death can take years.
That’s where the Victorian laws fall down, Mr Thornton explained.
He could not find two doctors willing to say with absolute certainty that he would die within 12 months, which in his case is a condition to access the legislation.
That left him with Switzerland as a solution to end his suffering, albeit without his children, his extended family and his loyal circle of friends.
“Doctors have always told me that you don’t die of it, you die with it. You can live for quite a few years, but … you end up being a vegetable,” he told AAP from the Swiss city of Basel.
“After a while it attacks different systems, breathing, swallowing. I’d end up drowning in my own mucous, that’s what happens.”
He called his disease a “beast”: one that takes everything away slowly.
“First you can’t swim, then you can’t run, walk, kick the footy with your children, you can’t surf, drive; eventually it takes your career. Then you end up being a vegetable.
“It’s a pretty grim way to go out.”
He described every day as “like Groundhog Day” – filled with incessant vertigo, double vision and nausea.
“I’ve just had enough, but unfortunately the laws, while they are a huge step in the right direction, they don’t help me. They discount a lot of people.”
He urged Australian voters to tell their politicians what they want when it comes to end of life choices.
“When it’s our life, we should have control. We should be able to choose if we are of sound mind. That’s what I’d like to say.”