A group of anti-euthanasia protesters have been harassing cancer patients and calling medical staff “murderers” outside a Melbourne hospital in protest against Victoria’s new voluntary assisted dying laws.
From June 2019, the controversial laws will offer eligible, terminally ill people who have less than six months to live the right to end their lives in hospital.
Last week, a group of activists began handing out flyers outside Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre that describe voluntary assisted dying as “state-sanctioned extra judicial executions”.
The pamphlets, which are falsely branded with the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre name, pretend the clinic is advertising for the role of “voluntary assisted dying navigators” to “help patients to kill themselves”.
“Peter Mac recruits suicide facilitator,” it reads.
Reason Party Leader and Victorian MP Fiona Patten, who spearheaded the assisted dying laws in parliament, said she was horrified by stories of protesters intimidating cancer patients and their families outside the hospital.
“A woman with stage four cancer was handed this awful flyer when visiting her dying husband,” Ms Patten told ABC broadcaster Jon Faine on Wednesday.
“If they want to campaign against the assisted dying laws in Victoria, well, campaign at Parliament, but don’t harass people at a very difficult time in their life accessing medical facilities.
“You have the right to free speech, but not a free audience.”
An ABC caller and nurse at the hospital said it was “heart-breaking to be accused of murder as you walk into work”.
Another caller said he was “disgusted” by the protesters.
“I lost my father last year and I’m disgusted by these people,” he said.
“You have to ask … have they ever been in the same situation, or had their father say to you ‘I don’t want any more medical attention, I don’t want to be poked and prodded anymore – I just want to die’?”
The cancer centre said in a statement it had implemented security measures to “ensure unimpeded access to (the) building”.
“Voluntary Assisted Dying was a matter of considerable public debate before it passed the Victorian Parliament in 2017,” it reads.
“Peter Mac is now taking steps to comply with the legislation, which takes effect later this year.”