Veteran Victorian firefighter Troy Thornton has died in a Swiss euthanasia clinic in the arms of his wife.
The 54-year-old, who suffered from multiple system atrophy, died late on Friday (Australian time) listening to one of his favourite songs, ‘Sailing’ by Christopher Cross, according to voluntary euthanasia advocate Phillip Nitschke.
As the drugs began to kick in, Mr Thornton’s last words were: “It’s working, I’m going.”
“The moment was peaceful and dignified, just as he had planned it,” Mr Nitschke said in an update on Mr Thornton’s gofundme page.
While his wife, Christine, was there to hold his hand, he died without his two teenage children by his side.
Mr Nitschke said Mr Thornton spent his last hours sightseeing around the city of Basel, following a car journey through the Swiss Alps the day before.
“He said it was an ‘awesome’ way to spend his last day on the planet,” Mr Nitschke said.
Mr Thornton – who lived with his family on the Mornington Peninsula, south of Melbourne – was an officer in charge at Mornington Fire Brigade, having worked in the industry for more than 30 years.
He initially worked as a pararescue jumper, helicopter aircrew man and co-pilot for the National Safety Council of Australia in the late 1980s before joining Country Fire Authority.
He played a vital role in the rescue mission during the 1997 Thredbo landslide disaster.
Mr Thornton’s call for change in Australia
He wanted the nation to think deeply about the concept of dying well and to challenge the notion that choosing death was somehow wrong.
Mr Thornton desperately wished he have could legally end his life at home in Australia, with all those he loved around him.
But despite Victoria becoming the first state to legalise voluntary assisted dying, he did not 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 was 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 before his death.
“After a while it attacks different systems, breathing, swallowing. I’d end up drowning in my own mucous, that’s what happens.”
Mr Thornton 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,” he said.
“It’s a pretty grim way to go out.”
Mr Thornton 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,” Mr Thornton said.
– with AAP
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