At 74 years old, Judith Daley has just one regret - smoking. The euthanasia campaigner tells SHERELE MOODY that she's determined to die on her own terms, in her own way, when she wants and without regret.
IN the 1960s, smoking was the epitome of glamour and sophistication.
Big time stars made cigarettes smooth and sensual - Spencer Tracy's Lucky Strikes were "easy on the throat" even after "throat-taxing scenes"; Barbara Stanwyck posed with an L&M Filter between her fingers; Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz raved about the "tasty mildness, rich flavour and pleasant aroma" of the Phillip Morris brand; Frank Sinatra sauntered across movie sets and stages with a Chesterfield hanging casually from his lips; and Lauren Bacall "loved to see a man smoke a Cigarillo".
Back in suburban Australia, 17-year-old Judith Daley fell for big tobacco's clever Hollywood idol marketing ploy that netted the industry billions while failing to tell consumers of the health risks.
"I only ever smoked menthols, which I recalled being marketed to ladies," Judith remembers, her voice husky from years of breathing in cigarette smoke.
"It was probably about 30 a day. But if I went out drinking it could easily become 40 or 50."
"Everybody was doing it.
"My mother smoked, all the boys and girls smoked. Movie stars smoked.
"It was such a sophisticated thing to do."
Ironically, Judith had her first smoke in 1962 - the year that the Royal College of Physicians released its ground-breaking Smoking and Health Report that showed a clear link between cigarettes and cancer and lung disease.
While the report made waves around the world, big tobacco simply continued its spin, encouraging people like Judith to keep inhaling its products.
About 25 years after her first smoke, Judith's body was waging what seemed like a constant war against bronchitis.
"I was sick a lot of the time," the former private investigator turned actor says of her decision to finally quit at the age of 42.
"Back then there was this myth that if you gave up smoking, all the damage done would be gone in 12 months.
"I can tell you that's not true."
Just a few years after butting out for the last time, Judith was diagnosed with emphysema, a deadly lung condition found in many people who have smoked.
Now 74, the actor's body is slowly waning as lung infections, asthma and bronchial scarring from pneumonia take their toll.
"The one big regret of my life is that I smoked," Judith says of the habit that claims at least 15,000 Australians a year and costs the economy about $31.5 billion a year.
"I won't be breathing towards the end of my life - I'll be suffocating."
While Judith concedes her teenage yearning to be cool will put her in an "early" grave, she is determined to make sure she leaves this world on her own terms.
Like 70% of Australians, she believes euthanasia should be legalised in our country, so over the past few years she has become an outspoken advocate for the cause.
She even ran, albeit unsuccessfully, in the 2015 NSW election on the Voluntary Euthanasia Party ticket.
Euthanasia is derived from a Greek term and simply means "good death" - and that is all Judith wants.
She says her need to die with "grace and dignity" started to take shape about a decade ago when she helped nurse her husband, Robert, as he succumbed to a chronic heart condition.
The couple spent a lot of time waiting behind those blue curtains synonymous with hospital emergency rooms, listening to other patients endure extreme pain and suffering in the "final hours" of their lives.
"We could hear these people dying - some of them were screaming, some of them were crying, some were calling for their mother," Judith says.
"The doctors and nurses would tell us they'd given them all the pain relief possible.
"I heard people having horrible deaths.
"Dying is not like the movies.
"You don't just go to sleep and vanish."
The NSW and Victorian governments are expected to debate euthanasia laws in the coming 12 months.
Queensland lobbyists hope to get the ball rolling after the state goes to the polls this year or next.
Australia briefly had voluntary euthanasia laws about 21 years ago when in 1996, the Northern Territory introduced the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act.
During its short-lived operation, three people were legally allowed to end their own lives with the assistance of prominent euthanasia campaigner Dr Philip Nitschke.
However, the Commonwealth Government voided those laws in 1997 - something it could only do in a territory because the NT's legislature (and the ACT's) are not guaranteed by the Australian Constitution.
It is unlikely that state-based legislation will be overturned because the constitution does not allow the Commonwealth to override state laws.
Shayne Higson, from Dying with Dignity NSW and Go Gentle Australia, said she hoped NSW residents would have "greater end-of-life choices by this time next year."
And if the NSW Parliamentary Working Group on Assisted Dying's draft legislation wins public and political approval, it could change the outlook for Australians who want to choose when they die.
In the meantime, Ms Higson believes people living outside the capital cities have it slightly better - in some ways - when it comes to end-of-life care and choices.
"While some might argue that regional residents have less choice when it comes to their end-of-life experience because they may lack access to quality palliative care, others could argue that regional residents actually have better control of their deaths as a result," Ms Higson said.
"In regional NSW, it is often GPs and palliative care nurse practitioners who are responsible for providing end-of-life care for their patients and when an individual chooses to die at home, the patient and their family are often given greater control of the medication needed to control symptoms, including pain medication.
"Unfortunately, if family members can no longer manage the daily care of a dying loved one, the lack of specialist hospice facilities in regional NSW can mean patients have to move into a nursing home, or into a palliative care ward within their local hospital.
"Both these options may require having to travel long distances, adding to the distress and hardship of all concerned."
Dying with Dignity Queensland president Sharon Tregoning said campaigners were liaising with all Queensland's MPs to get their views on euthanasia.
"We do have some members of parliament who are happy to put forward a bill at this stage," she said.
"But we're choosing not to do it yet because the process and timeframe to create legislation as challenging as this, is 12-18 months.
"There is a lot of groundwork for us at this stage."
Pauline Hanson's One Nation, Derryn Hinch's Justice Party, Labor and the Greens have all indicated support for euthanasia laws.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says the issue, while "fraught" with practical and moral difficulties, is one for the states to decide.
Critics of euthanasia believe it goes against the natural way of life and if laws were passed, politicians would be green-lighting "state-sanctioned" murder of vulnerable Australians.
Right to Life Australia spokeswoman Dr Katrina Haller said her biggest fear was that vulnerable Australians would be killed for their money by greedy relatives.
She also fears people who are "too old" or have serious disabilities could be put to death or people with depression could opt to die under euthanasia laws simply because their mental health was fragile.
"How can you tell if someone has been coerced into saying they don't want to be a burden to their family or society," Dr Haller said.
"We have a lot of elder abuse cases and it is expected to increase.
"When you're older you have less social and friendship networks, you have less access to information, you lose economic power and family members can financially, emotionally abuse the person and very subtly put pressure on that person to say it's time they went.
"We think voluntary euthanasia will quickly become involuntary euthanasia."
As both sides of the debate begin lobbying in earnest, Judith Daley is contemplating what will happen if her health deteriorates before any Australian jurisdiction passes the legislation allowing her to opt for voluntary assisted dying.
If her time comes before then she will take the issue into her own hands, even though she hates the thought of the potential consequences on her sister, nephews, grandnephew and grandniece.
"There is no cure for this condition," she says.
"If I can find anyone with the means, and the most successful means is (the barbiturate) Nembutal, then I'll take it.
"But the chances of getting my hands on the drug are pretty remote.
"I don't know what I'll do but I'll find a way, but it won't be dignified and it will be terrible for the people who find me.
"I want to be able to say 'I've had enough and it's my choice - I want to go now'."
If you require mental health support please phone Lifeline on 13 11 14.
- ARM NEWSDESK
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