Frances Coombes is the President of the South Australian Voluntary Euthanasia Society. Here we talk about euthanasia with some personal background.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What was early life like for you, e.g., geography, culture, language, religion or lack thereof, education, and family structure and dynamics?
Frances Coombe: I was very fortunate to have a stable and happy early life – an only child born post war 1953, father (born in Australia) served in the navy during the war on a small minesweeper ship, mother migrated from England 1951 as a 10 pound Pom & she had lived through the Blitz in London during the war repairing fire hoses.
Our family lived a financially comfortable life but my father did work overtime to secure this – my mother stopped work when she married. Only the English language spoken at home. My father was a gentle and learned man, my mother more outgoing.
They both had a respectful & loving family relationship, also pursuing their own interests – my father as a boilermaker at the local railway workshops, had a welding machine at home & he made about 13 trailers & 3 boat trailers over his lifetime, many crabbing tubs + many other bits & pieces.
My mother did voluntary work within the community. I taught 5-7 years old for 10 years b4 having my own 3 children. I am, when feeling cynical an Atheist :] & otherwise agnostic – I couldn’t care less about religion but I am very concerned at its predominant interest in oppressing & suppressing people; in its worst form a true weapon of mass destruction!
Jacobsen: What levels of formal education have been part of life for you? How have you informally self-educated, been an autodidact?
Coombe: I completed a Diploma of primary education after completing year 12. I have read widely, attended conferences & learned many skills from people I was fortunate to have as mentors.
Jacobsen: I see a few different terms and phrases floating around now: euthanasia, right to die, and dying with dignity. How do these differ from one another? How do these relate to one another?
Coombe: They are all related – the word euthanasia has been sullied through the WW2 Nazi so called euthanasia programme so mostly it has been dropped in favour of softer & less confrontational, marketable terms.
SAVES retains the words as we have supported about 14 VE Bills in Parlt since 1995 & the term is well known & accepted here.
Jacobsen: What makes for a proper context and consideration of the human right to bodily autonomy at the time of death, its context and moment?
Coombe: The prime factor is that VE is a person’s decision in face of unrelievable suffering from a hopeless illness.
It is not for anyone to make this choice but the suffering person themselves. Consideration must acknowledge that there is a minority of people who cannot be helped by even optimal medical & palliative care (PC) – here in Aust the Austn Medical Assocn & Palliative Care Aust do acknowledge this but then effectively abandon these people by opposing VE.
The latter body is reconsidering this stance, mainly due to the fact that the Victorian State law is to be active this June 2019. It has said that they are considering a recent report showing that PC continues to thrive in Belgium, Netherlands & Oregon but there has been such evidence for some years now, which they have ignored, so I am of the opinion that the Victorian legn is causing some urgency in their rethink!
Context & consideration is also enshrined in Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ‘No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.’
Jacobsen: How did you come to be interested or intrigued and then active in the euthanasia movement?
Coombe: When I realised that death is not as depicted in movies but can be in realty hard, cruel & protracted.
I was also intrigued in that my parents had joined SAVES & they were not really joiners – my mother being only a member of an animal welfare group & my father being a member of the local football club.
Jacobsen: How did you find the South Australian Voluntary Euthanasia Society?
Coombe: Through my parents.
Jacobsen: What tasks and responsibilities come with the leadership position, as the President of SAVES?
Coombe: Public speaking, fostering a team spirit of trust, co-operation & appreciation, setting an example of these qualities & being diligent in my own work. I think it is important as a leader to be respectful & considerate.
This of course extends to relations with Members of Parliament (MPs). SAVES works very closely with our MPs. It is also vital that a leader is not be threatened by new ideas.
Jacobsen: What are the main concerns, legally and socially, of the euthanasia movement and SAVES within South Australia now?
Coombe: SAVES is a law reform movement & as such does not get involved in helping people end their own lives. This would be illegal & counterproductive. To get a Bill passed in Parliament we need to be very separate from Dr. Nitschke who does provide such assistance.
This is not to say we are against him – he provides the help people need now while we work to change the law. When we are staffing our information displays in public it is important that we are seen to be knowledgeable & respectful.
Jacobsen: How are euthanasia activists and organizations misrepresented? Who are they misrepresented by, typically? What truths dispel those myths?
Coombe: Misrepresentation mainly occurs from institutions & individuals that have an extremist religious outlook. This occurs through lies & deception, emotional wording such as “killing”, deliberate fear mongering.
SAVES is an evidence based body – we base our information on research & both government & academic reports – see the newsletters we give to all SA MPs each Parlt sitting week – 71 to date https://www.saves.asn.au/newsletters.
Jacobsen: Any final feelings or thoughts based on the conversation today?
Coombe: It is important to acknowledge that a majority of Christians have long supported legalising VE, see https://christiansforve.org.au
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Frances.
Coombe: You’re welcome Scott – thank you for your work in helping secure a secular, rational world.
Do not forget to look into our associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, and Centre for Inquiry Canada.