Peter Johnston, former SANFL footballer, talks about his mother's suffering

Former SANFL footballer Peter Johnston pleads with MPs in South Australia to vote for Voluntary Assisted Dying after seeing his 89 year old mother's suffering.

Rebecca DiGirolamo told his story in the Sunday Mail, October 3, 2020.

DiGirolamo describes Peter Johnston as a tough former SANFL footballer – 'but his mum’s suffering before her death in September 2020 shook him to the core'. 

Mrs Johnston, from Glenelg, died at an aged care facility in Adelaide after enduring five months of advanced-stage cancer.

Johnston told DiGirolamo “Sixteen days before her death, mum pleaded to be terminated to her doctor and our family members supported her request. The doctor refused and explained that morphine can only be used for pain relief, not termination.

“The last two days of mum’s life she looked unrecognisable – gaunt, bright yellow from liver malfunction and the ‘death gurgling’ coming from fluid in her lungs. It is a disgrace that humans are put through this humiliation.”

Johnston said a palliative care team of doctors and nurses were hamstrung by SA’s lack of voluntary assisting legislation and did all they could to support his mother using heavy pain relief.

But despite this, he said she eventually died from starvation and dehydration and he’s not convinced she did not suffer in her final moments.

“We need all politicians to visit an aged care facility to witness first-hand what is going on and why we need to revisit the euthanasia debate. Surely two doctors in consultation with family members and the patient should provide sufficient governance to satisfy most?”

Australian Medical Association SA president Dr Chris Moy said SA doctors were protected by law to provide end of life medication to control a dying patient’s pain and suffering, even if that medication might hasten the patient’s death. But he said doctors cannot give medication with the specific intention to end a patient’s life.

Note: In January 2020, the Sunday Mail’s Your Say SA survey found 84.6 per cent of respondents supported voluntary euthanasia with written consent – 8.1 per cent were opposed and 7.3 per cent unsure.

(Peter Johnston played 87 games for Glenelg and South Adelaide from 1976 until 1981 and is now executive director of the Association of Independently Owned Financial Professionals.)