SA grandmother says final goodbye, as voluntary assisted dying program begins

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Denise Wyatt is described by her children as “the life of the party” and always the “last one dancing”. But when she was diagnosed with a rare progressive brain disorder, the grandmother told her family she wanted to die on her own terms.

“I knew what she was in for. We knew what the endgame was going to be,” her daughter Amanda Hancock said.

When Wyatt was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease in 2017, her daughter said she rapidly declined, was unable to swallow and weighed only 40kg.

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“She would tell anyone that visited her, ’I want to die’,” Hancock said.

“She lived life to the fullest. She had a fantastic life. She wanted to die with dignity.”

The family celebrated Denise Wyatt’s life in a send-off where they could all say their goodbyes. Credit: Supplied

Patients with the disease slowly lose independence and usually live up to 25 years from diagnosis.

Hancock said it was important to her mother that she didn’t wait to lose all her independence.

Wyatt died on March 12, 2023, aged 75 years old, and is one of the six people who have been able to use South Australia’s voluntary assisted dying program since it started.

The family celebrated her life in a send-off where they could all say goodbye.

“In the end she was very anxious, very upset and almost begging for this to happen,” her daughter said.

“My last phone call to the pathway was, ‘My mum is going to die of starvation if this is not done sooner rather than later’.”

Amanda Hancock’s mother was one of six people to access voluntary assisted dying since it was introduced in SA. Credit: 7NEWS

SA’s Assisted dying program starts

South Australians have been able to access voluntary assisted dying from January 31 2023, and since then, 35 people have made a first request to commence the process. Thirteen permits have been issued by SA Health.

Forty-four medical practitioners had completed the mandatory training and a further 69 have registered.

The program has strict eligibility requirements, including having a life expectancy of six months for a terminal illness, or up to one year if it is neurodegenerative.

Opponents of the program were concerned the safeguards could be ignored or loosened in the future.

“Euthanasia is not the only option. We need to make sure palliative care is sufficiently funded so that remains a real option for people,” said Liberal MLC Dennis Hood.

Denise Wyatt was diagnosed with the Huntington’s disease in 2017. Credit: Supplied

Hancock said her family was pleased with the program, despite it being newly introduced.

“The people we have behind the scenes are fantastic,” she said.

“(It was) very clear, very concise. Right from the very first conversation right from the beginning to the day my mum passed everything was done amazingly.”

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