He knew the end was near when he began choking on air.
Robert Cordover was larger than life. The 68-year-old spoke six languages, travelling the world for the United Nations.
“A super funny, loud, always talkative guy, his booming voice echoing through the house,” remembers one of his five children, Gideon.
In 2008 he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease. First his voice went. He started choking on food. Then water. Finally, it was air. Robert had seen his mother die slowly and painfully from the same illness. He determined he would not go the same way.
“Why don’t you guys just take me out to the bush and leave me there?” he scribbled on a piece of paper.
His family thought he was joking. Surely, there must be a better way. Surveys show around 35 percent of doctors are willing to help hasten the death of a terminally ill patient. But his doctors didn’t want to talk about it.
So Robert went to visit Dr. Rodney Syme, author of the book A Good Death and former President of Dying with Dignity Victoria. The good doctor has made it his life’s work to give people control over their death. I’m talking about voluntary euthanasia. Not ‘state sponsored killing’, as its opponents like to call it.
Put simply – a dignified end.
Robert smuggled medication back to Tasmania. “It gave him a new lease on life,” Gideon says.
This is the experience in Oregon in the United States, one of the few places in the world with voluntary euthanasia laws. In one-third of cases, the patients who procure the medication never use it.
In the words of philosopher John Stuart Mill in On Liberty, “Over himself, over his body and mind, the individual is sovereign”. This explains why the right has joined the left in supporting the cause.
More than 80 percent of Australians want the right-to-die laws.
So did Robert.
He soon realised he had to kill himself quickly, before losing control of his motor skills. If he left it any longer his wife or children would have to do it, risking arrest and jail.