WHEN he was diagnosed with terminal cancer in early 2014, Coles Express CEO Peter Short decided he wasn’t going meekly. Instead he turned his considerable corporate expertise to the campaign for assisted dying.
Fade to Black will be screened outside the metropolitan area for the first time next week when it comes to Cowes Cultural Centre. The event has been organised by Peter’s sister, Jill Short, who lives on Phillip Island.
The screening coincides with a bill on assisted dying due to go before the Victorian Parliament, following a parliamentary inquiry and expert panel report. Previous attempts to introduce access to assisted dying in Australia have all failed, but Jill Short believes the Victorian legislation has a real chance of success because it is the first time that a bill has been introduced by a state government.
She says campaigning for law reform gave her brother a real sense of purpose for his last year. “He was a very driven person and, just like everyone when they face death, he felt disempowered. Through the campaign, he found a way to fight back.”
She describes her brother as “capable, corporate and driven”. “He was not a person who had much empathy with anyone until he was sick. He was one of those real corporate high flyers.”
Peter had been diagnosed with oesophagal cancer in 2009, and the cancer removed by major surgery. When it returned five years later, it metastasised to his lungs. Advised that he could only be offered palliative care, he decided he wasn’t waiting around to die.
It was at this time that he heard a radio interview with Rodney Syme, then Victorian president of Dying with Dignity, and one of his patients, Steve Guest, who also had oesophagal cancer.
Peter got in touch with Dr Syme and, after he had been prescribed Nembutal, began working on a campaign of federal law reform with him and the leader of the Greens, Dr Richard Di Nitale. Peter addressed a Senate inquiry, where he spoke of his own experience facing death and the reassurance that Nembutal had given him.
“He often said he’d had a glorious life and he was going to have a glorious death,” Jill recalls. “He envisaged himself dying at home with his arms around his wife, his son and dog, with a glass of red nearby.”
As it happened, he never did take the Nembutal. He remained quite well until about 11 months after his diagnosis, when he became suddenly ill with pneumonia and entered palliative care where he died several days later, in late 2014.
Jill says one of the main messages of the film is the palliative effect of Nembutal. “Peter’s argument, and the argument of people arguing for law reform, is the palliative effect of knowing you have access to Nembutal should you decide you can’t go on.”
Fade to Black will screen in the heritage room of the Cowes Cultural Centre next Thursday, August 24, at 2pm and 6.30pm, followed by a panel discussion. Tickets are available at Turn the Page bookshop, Ph 5952 1444. Entry is by gold coin donation. A future screening is planned for Wonthaggi.