Bendigo woman Kerry Robertson becomes first Victorian to use Voluntary Assisted Dying Act
5th August 2019
A Bendigo mother has become the first Victorian to use the state’s Voluntary Assisted Dying Act, with her daughters describing her death as “beautiful and peaceful”.
- The assisted dying process took 26 days for the Bendigo mum and her family to complete
- Kerry Robertson took the medication on the day it was dispensed
- The 61-year-old had stopped treatment for her metastatic breast cancer in March this year
Kerry Robertson, 61, died in a nursing home in Bendigo on July 15 from metastatic breast cancer weeks after Victoria’s assisted dying laws came into force on June 19.
She was the first person to be granted a permit under the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act, and the first to use it.
Ms Robertson’s daughters, Jacqui Hicks and Nicole Robertson, said she was given the empowered death that she wanted.
“We were beside her, David Bowie playing in the background, surrounded by love, with final words spoken, simple and dignified,” Nicole Robertson said in a statement.
Ms Hicks added: “She left this world with courage and grace, knowing how much she is loved.”
The sisters told ABC Radio Melbourne their mother’s death was “perfect”.
“Mum was really lucky because she was able to plan that day,” Nicole Robertson said.
She said her mother was able to plan simple details, such as how the room smelt and her last meal: a capricciosa pizza, no anchovies but with olives.
“We’d also gotten to a point where Mum wasn’t up for having visitors other than a very close group of people including us, so we reached out to our extended family … and got them to write letters for us to read to Mum,” Nicole Robertson said.
Daughters given ‘whole new perspective’ on death
Kerry Robertson was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010.
Over time, it metastasised into her bones, lungs and brain.
The 61-year-old decided to stop treatment in March this year after the cancer spread to her liver and the side effects of treatment were no longer manageable.
“I think Mum really wanted to be able to have an assisted death, but was not sure whether or not she would make it in time, or the legislation would make it in time,” Nicole Robertson said.
“So we were very open about that as an option and we were fully supportive of Mum’s decision knowing that the cancer was so aggressive and that potentially the way that her life would end would be very full of pain.”
The assisted dying process took 26 days to complete and went smoothly, the daughters said.
Nicole Robertson described the process as the “most compassionate, dignified and logical option for those suffering in the end stages of life”.
“Before this happened I was afraid of death, but Mum was incredibly brave and the way that she died gave me a whole new perspective on death itself,” she said.
“I just honestly think it’s got to do with compassion and individual people. It’s not about political agenda or religion, it’s about human suffering and ending that suffering.”
‘Discuss it with your family’
Kerry Robertson took the medication, which was hand-delivered by a pharmacist, on the day it was dispensed by the statewide pharmacy.
In a written request to explain why she wanted have a voluntary assisted death, she said that she no longer had any joy in her life.
“She was a very independent person throughout her life and she was no longer able to be independent in any area of her life, she couldn’t even feed herself anymore,” Ms Hicks said.
“There was absolutely no doubt in her mind that this is what she wanted,” Nicole Robertson said.
“And of course we would have loved to have had her around longer, but to watch her suffering the way that she was, was of no benefit to anybody — it wasn’t helping her and it wasn’t helping us.”
Ms Hicks and Nicole Robertson said their mother was a private person, not an activist, and the only reason the family chose to speak out was to help others going through the same thing.
“Discuss it with your family, even if you’re not unwell, just have that hypothetical ‘maybe this could be for me’ [discussion],” Ms Hicks said.
“Mum wasn’t scared of dying, she was scared of the way the cancer was going to take her.”
Health Minister honours Robertson’s ‘memory and bravery’
Minister for Health Jenny Mikakos said the first use of Victoria’s Voluntary Assisted Dying Act was “an historic moment”.
Thanking Ms Robertson’s family and friends for their bravery in choosing to share her story, Ms Mikakos added: “The Victorian Parliament legalised voluntary assisted dying so that Victorians with an insufferable, terminal and incurable illness can have a genuine and compassionate choice at the end of their lives.
“Today we honour her memory and her bravery and we offer our sincere condolences to those who loved her.”
Ms Mikakos’s office said the Victorian Government had put reporting structures in place to ensure the assisted dying system was as transparent as possible.
This includes regular reporting by the Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board to the Victorian Parliament.
Only a small number of people were expected to seek access to voluntary assisted dying in the first year, it added, saying it expected the number to be as little as a dozen.
A threshold in patient numbers must be reached before data can be accessed, Ms Mikakos’s office said.
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This process was put in place to remove the risk of individual patient identification unless the families of those using the system choose to go public with their story, as was the case with Kerry Robertson.
The Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board is responsible for reviewing all cases of voluntary assisted dying deaths, Ms Mikakos’s office confirmed, adding it has already met to review Kerry Robertson’s case, with a statement forthcoming.
Victoria’s Voluntary Assisted Dying Act passed parliament in 2017, with the support of Premier Daniel Andrews and the majority of his cabinet.
The laws were designed to be the most conservative euthanasia laws in the world, with patients required to meet strict criteria to be eligible.
This includes having a terminal illness with no more than six months left to live, or 12 months if the patient has a degenerative neurological condition.
In order to be approved, patients must initiate a conversation with their doctor, see a second doctor specialising in their illness and make three requests.