'I refuse': Harrowing final moments of terminally ill teen

Nick Whigham
·Assistant News Editor
·4-min read

WARNING – CONFRONTING CONTENT: A South Australian family have shared the heartbreak of watching on while their son, 19, ended his life following a painful battle with a rare bone cancer.

Rhys Habermann took his own life in January 2017 despite fearing his parents could end up in jail for being in the same room. 

The family shared the heartbreaking story with the ABC's 7.30 program in hopes of reigniting debate about voluntary euthanasia in the state. 

South Australian teen Rhys Habermann with his parents, Brett and Liz.
Rhys Habermann with his parents, Brett and Liz, and siblings. Source: Facebook

About 18 months before his death, Rhys was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma, a family of cancerous tumours that grow in or on the bone and soft tissue near the bone, according to an online fundraising campaign set up in 2015.

"Devastatingly for Rhys a tumour formed on his hip which has metastasised to his shoulders, ribs, spine, skull and lungs. For patients detected early, the five-year survival rate is close to 70 per cent. In Rhys’ case, the five-year survival rate is 20 per cent to 30 per cent," the page said.

Sadly, the pain of the brutal condition was too much for Rhys. His parents said he would talk about taking his own life alone in a hotel room somewhere, but they were adamant he would be with family in his final moments.

Before he died, he asked his parents to film him from his bed in a harrowing video that was later handed to police.

"He didn’t want to die — he just didn’t want to be in pain anymore," his mother, Liz Habermann, told the ABC. 

"He spent the last 18 months of his life finding the best way to die that wasn’t going to totally ruin us."

Rhys Habermann in bed before his death.
The heartbreaking video was filmed and later handed to police. Source: ABC

In the video filmed by his mother and shared with the ABC, the terminally ill teenager argued for his right to die.

"I believe in my right to die by my own choosing. This is tough for everybody but I refuse to go through palliative care, after experiencing a little bit of it this last week," he said.

"It's more painful than I could have ever imagined."

When police arrived at the family home, a crime scene was established. 

According to the ABC, the subsequent investigation took 18 months before the family were cleared – a process that compounded the grief of his parents and siblings. 

In South Australia, there is currently no legal provision for terminally ill patients to end their own life.

"Rhys was really worried what would happen afterwards,” Liz said.

“That’s why he was adamant we shouldn’t have been there, but there’s no way in hell we weren’t going to be there."

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Euthanasia on the agenda for more Aussie states

A growing number of states are legalising or considering the introduction of a euthanasia program, in accordance with strict guidelines.

Terminally ill patients in Victoria have been able to control their fate after the state introduced a voluntary assisted dying scheme nearly two years ago. Since June 2019, some 224 Victorians have ended their lives.

In the wake of Victoria's move, laws legalising euthanasia have also passed state parliaments in Tasmania and Western Australia. 

South Australia, meanwhile, will debate the issue for the 17th time after an Upper House MP tabled a bill in parliament in December.

In Queensland, the Labor government will introduce a bill this year after making it a central part of its re-election campaign.

NSW independent MP Alex Greenwich plans to introduce a private member's bill this year. The state's most recent attempt to legalise voluntary assisted dying in 2017 failed to pass the Upper House by one vote.

The Northern Territory passed the world's first law in 1995 only to have it overturned less than two years later by the federal government. Canberra also removed the right of territories to legislate on euthanasia.

with AAP

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.

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