Mum's heartbreak as terminally-ill son chooses death
IN HER Little Mountain home, Barbara Spencer sat and waited for news from half a world away that it was over.
Her firefighter son Troy Thornton lay beside his wife Christine in a Swiss euthanasia clinic bed, self-administering through a drip a drug that would stop his heart beating.
They had slipped out of the country about a fortnight earlier, largely keeping secret their plans for Mr Thornton's assisted death in case Australian authorities tried to stop them.
He had said his goodbyes to his teenage children Jack and Laura, family, friends and Victorian Country Fire Authority colleagues before embarking on the 30-hour journey.
The progressive neurodegenerative disorder with which he had been diagnosed five years earlier had taken his ability to walk unassisted, control his bladder and speak properly.
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It left the 53-year-old choking on his own saliva.
He was determined not to spend his final days in nursing home care waiting for it to inevitably turn him into a vegetable.
That goal was achieved on February 22.
"After it was over, I was the first person she (Christine) phoned and she just said 'he's gone and it was beautiful'," Mrs Spencer, 74, said.
"The last thing he said to her was 'no more talking, I'm going to sleep now'."
She said her son had insisted on going on his final journey with only Christine and a firefighter friend to accompany her home.
Mr Thornton kept his multiple system atrophy diagnosis from his mum for about three years, letting her in on the devastating news two years ago.
He was driving her back to her hotel after a family dinner in Melbourne when he told her of his desire for an assisted death.
"I was just shocked," she said.
"It took me a long time to accept it.
"He rang me and said 'mum, this is my choice, I'd be a lot happier if you could accept what I am going to do'.
"I eventually said I understood."
She said she felt saddest for his children.
"He said that was the hardest thing he had done in his life... to say goodbye to his kids.
"It broke my heart so I can't imagine what it did to him."
The last time she saw him in person was when some of his old schoolmates drove him up from Victoria on a surfing trip in January.
"They would take him down to the beach, lay him on his board and push him out."
She said she and her son talked about his health.
"That was more or less his goodbye.
"Nothing was mentioned about him going to Switzerland."
That confirmation came in a phone call just before he flew out
"He just rang me and said 'mum it's all organised, I'm going'."
Her last direct communication came in a text message sent from overseas.
"The last thing he said to me was 'I love you mum'."
Mrs Spencer arrived back on the Coast on Sunday after a trip to her son's home town of Mt Martha in Victoria for a memorial service.
She said it was a beautiful tribute attended by at least 1000 people.
"They did it so, so well on the stage with his uniform.
"The guard of honour was a block long."
Mrs Spencer said she learned more about the efforts to which her son's colleagues had gone, including a lights and sirens display as he drove away from Mt Martha for the last time.
She said colleagues had also wanted to spray fire hoses over the plane as it prepared for take-off but chose not to because they didn't want to risk bringing attention to Mr Thornton's plans.
"You wouldn't think that would happen because that is your choice."
She said she would lobby Member for Fisher Andrew Wallace to raise the issue with his fellow MPs.
"There should be a referendum for the people of Australia to vote on whether they want voluntary euthanasia."
In a statement, Mr Wallace extended his sympathies to Mrs Spencer and all of Mr Thornton's family.
"It is hard to imagine the suffering experienced by people living with a terminal illness and their families, and I believe all Australians would wish them all the comfort and care that we can provide," he said.
Mr Wallace said end of life care, including assisted dying, was a State Government responsibility over which the Federal Government could not exercise any control.
"The issue is, however, already currently the subject of a public inquiry by the Queensland Parliamentary Health, Communities, Disability Services and Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Committee.
"This inquiry, which was instigated by the Queensland Government and is likely to have a significant impact on our state's policy making in this arena, is open for public submissions until 15 April 2019."
Residents can have their say on end of life care and assisted dying in Queensland by emailing their views to the committee at firstname.lastname@example.org or by writing to HCDSDFVPC, Parliament House, Qld 4000.