Judith Daley is a Board Member of Dying with Dignity NSW. Here we talk about her background, work, and views.
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?
Judith Daley: My early life was conventional until I was about six. I mean conventional in as much as my mother and father lived together in a very small village on the north coast of New South Wales (NSW) in an area where both their parents and siblings and their families also lived.
I have a sister who is nearly 3 years younger than me. My mother and particularly my father were practicing Roman Catholics.
However, when was six and my sister was nearly three my mother ran away with a man who was 27 years older than her and who had two children who were older than her and two who were close to her age.
This was in 1950 and caused such as scandel that her siblings did not speak to her for a couple of decades. Her mother was the only relative I had any knowledge about.
My mother and stepfather stopped running when they reached Adelaide in South Australia. We lived in Adelaide, at various addresses, for the next 12 years.
It was only from about then on, by which time we had moved to Ballarat in Victoria, that I because aware that I had aunts and uncles and cousins. Those relationships have never been close.
I have very little knowledge of the Daley side of my family and did not meet my father, despite several attempts by my sister and I, until I was 31 and it wasn’t a particularly happy event.
My father and two sisters and a brother, so there are a large group of Daley relations all from the north cast, are of NSW. I don’t know them. I was always sent to the local Catholic school and practiced that faith.
When I was about 18 or 19, I stopped attending church and stared saying I was agnostic. I now think that’s sort of an each way bet so now say I am an atheist.
I do have occasional moments of envy because people who do believe in God, regardless of whether they practice religion or not, get a lot of comfort from that belief.
Jacobsen: What levels of formal education have been part of life for you? How have you informally self-educated?
Daley: Like most women from my socio-economic class and in my age group (DOB: 1944 – now 74) at that time I left school at 15-1/2 years because giving girls an education was considered a waste because they were destined for marriage and children.
I was an active union member and as a result of this, and a wonderful Australian politician named Clyde Cameron I had many opportunities to gain informal education.
It is a long story but I worked for the largest union for public servants in NSW and managed to conduct a job redesign which amalgamated two vocational groups into one more advantageous group within the Attorney General’s Department.
That job redesign was considered the equivalent of a lower degree by theUniversity of Technology, Sydney, so when I was 49 I went to university and gained a Masters of Employment in Industrial Relations.
When I was 52, after I’d finished my Masters, I went to a technical college for 6 months and gained my Private Investigators license to enhance my abilities in a job I was doing.
Jacobsen: As one of the Board members of Dying with Dignity NSW, what tasks and responsibilities come with the position.
Daley: The Dying with Dignity Board meets approximately once a month. I attend those meetings and participate in discussions and decision making. I also sometimes field queries and questions from people who have recently had a terrible diagnosis and I explain the current law to them.
I write letters and lobby politicians and attend meetings where necessary. I sometimes give presentations to various groups regarding the position regarding Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) in NSW.
Jacobsen: What are some of the current initiatives and programs for the Dying with Dignity NSW?
Daley: Currently DWD are conducting forums to educate the general populace about the existing legal position regarding VAD. A large percentage of people think VAD is something they can simply request but an attempt to put legislation through the NSW Parliament last year failed on the initial vote by one vote.
We are working to influence the politicians to make the next attempt successful. The Council of the Ageing (COTA) has recently conducted a survey of older people and 84% of participants supported VAD.
Jacobsen: There is going to be an election in NSW. The Voluntary Euthanasia Party is a real political presence. What do you intend to do in the next electoral season?
Daley: The next election in NSW will be conducted on 23rd March 2019. The VEP will be one of the smaller parties to contest a seat in the Upper House of the NSW parliament.
In NSW a ‘party’ has to have 1,500 members to be classified as a ‘party’ and if that party wants voters to be able to vote above the line, so they just have to number one box instead of anything up to 100 boxes below the line, the party must have 15 candidates.
If the VEP were to be successful it would only be our lead candidate, Shayne Higson, who would be elected. I am simple; one of the 15 candidates to make up the numbers. There is no prospect of me being elected.
Jacobsen: What are the policies and platforms of the Voluntary Euthanasia Party?
Daley: The VEP is only standing on the single platform of getting VAD in place. It is our recommendation that voters put a ‘1’ in the VEP box and then a ‘2’ in the box of any of the larger political parties whose policies they also support.
This is not a rare position in our parliaments. There are several special interest parties such as Animal Welfare or The Fishers and Shooters who work in a similar manner.
Jacobsen: Obviously, there is a concurrent passion between both the non-profit and the political pursuits. As with any social movement and political party, typically, there will be opposition to them. Who is the opposition to Dying With Dignity NSW and the Voluntary Euthanasia Party?
Daley: The major opposition to VAD are the two main Christian churches such as the Catholic Church and the Church of England. It is an interesting link that these bodies are often the same organisations who manage and control the palliative care wards in the hospitals.
These organisations are fundamentally right wing in their views although there are more and more surveys indicating that upwards of 80% of their parishioners support VAD. There is also a very right wing preacher elected to the NSW Upper House named Fred Nile.
When the debate for VAD was underway in the Upper House last year he told outright lies in the House and the next day he admitted the lies in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald but didn’t have the guts to own it himself and said, “God made me do it”. JJEEEEZZZ He also tried to get Hansard (the record of Parliament) altered but that failed.
Jacobsen: How can these oppositional forces be combatted in 2019?
Daley: VAD has been legalised in the State of Victoria although the restrictions are the toughest in the world. VAD is actively being considered in the Parliaments of the states of Queensland and Western Australia.
The tide is turning and organisations like DWD are assisting because of the lobbying and public education we do. These activities are limited because we are a volunteer organisation with limited budgets. You can access a forum DWD conducted this year by going to our website. It is two hours long.
Jacobsen: How can people become involved through the donation of time, the addition of membership, links to professional and personal networks, giving monetarily, exposure in interviews or writing articles, and so on?
Daley: We are always seeking new members and our membership is growing. We do occasional drives for donations but have to be careful not to bleed our member dry.
On our website, we have several personal stories from people who are DWD members and who explain in detail why they are seeking VAD. As an example, I have attached a link to an article written about me a couple of years ago.
This article was written by a journalist in a regional newspaper and distributed to 16 other newspapers in southern Queensland and northern NSW.
Jacobsen: Any final feelings or thoughts based on the conversation today?
Daley: My interest in VAD is not entirely altruistic although I hope I would still hold these views if my circumstances were different. My partner of 33 years, who died 11 years ago, was unwell with a rare heart condition and he had many emergency admissions to various hospitals.
It was hearing other people screaming in pain in those emergency departments that first initiated my interest in VAD and made me realise that dying is not always dignified.
At those times when medical staff were questioned about why the person was in such agony, we were always told they couldn’t be given any more medication.
I was diagnosed with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease which in my case comprises emphysema, bronchitis, late onset asthma with unusual triggers and scaring in my left lung because of previous pneumonia).
I was diagnosed 24 years ago and my condition is reasonably well managed by if the condition continues as predicted I will not be breathing well at the end of my life because I will be gurgling. I don’t want anyone else to have the power to tell me to keep gurgling.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Judith.
Daley: I hope this is some use to you Scott. Thanks for this opportunity.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
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.
Other Resources: Recovering From Religion.