By state political reporter Richard Willingham
Cancer patients, their families and medical staff have been harassed by anti-euthanasia protesters as they enter Melbourne’s Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre for treatment.
A small band of protesters recently handed pamphlets to patients and staff, attacking the centre for preparing for voluntary assisted dying laws that come into effect on June 19.
Staff were called “murderers,” with the flyer stating “patient killing by doctors” would be legal.
“Doctor-prescribed suicides and state-sanctioned extra-judicial executions will be legal here at Peter Mac,” the pamphlet said.
“Assisting patients to commit suicide is not the best treatment for cancer.”
People with a neurodegenerative condition, such as motor neurone disease, with less than 12 months will also be able to access the scheme, which requires the patient to make three requests.
‘Harassment and intimidation’
Kate, a nurse from Peter Mac, told ABC Radio Melbourne the flyer was inaccurate, incorrect and hurtful to staff, who worked tirelessly to help patients.
“It is heartbreaking to be accused of murder when you walk into work,” she said.
“How are these people allowed to do that? Harass you on your way to work?”
The pamphlet includes an email address for Eugene Ahern, who is linked to the Right to Life movement.
He has not returned the ABC’s calls.
It also lists the Australian Care Alliance, a group also opposed to Victoria’s assisted dying laws.
Alliance secretary John Buchanan condemned the tactics of protesters, saying no patient should be harassed when seeking treatment.
He said the Alliance did not endorse the material and would not have used the terminology.
“Such tactics are not appropriate,” Mr Buchanan said.
“This is an important issue but it needs to be dealt with at Parliament, it should not be upsetting patients on the steps of Peter Mac.”
Reason Party MP Fiona Patten, an advocate for the assisted dying laws, was contacted by a woman with cancer, visiting her husband who has terminal cancer who had been approached by the group.
“This really upset her,” Ms Patten told ABC Melbourne.
“If they want to campaign against the assisted dying laws in Victoria, well, campaign at Parliament, but don’t harass people at a very difficult time of their life accessing medical facilities.”
‘Safe access zones’ to be examined
Health Minister Jenny Mikakos labelled the behaviour “appalling”.
“These are people who are going through devastating and difficult periods of their lives, and the last thing they need is harassment and intimidation while entering hospitals,” she said.
“The Victorian Parliament has passed voluntary assisted dying laws and established the safest and most conservative model in the world, because everybody deserves a dignified choice.”
Ms Mikakos said protection for patients would be examined.
“We introduced landmark safe access zones to stop women from being blocked, abused or intimidated when they accessed abortion clinics,” she said.
“We will carefully consider whether there is a need to protect others from such appalling behaviour.”
The flyer comes at the same time the High Court upheld Victorian and Tasmanian laws that prohibit protesters harassing women attending abortion clinics.
Ms Patten said it would be sad if Victoria had to introduce similar buffer zones to protect cancer patients.
In a statement, Peter Mac said: “Our patients, their families and carers, and our staff, should not be made to feel harassed while attending Peter Mac.”
It also said that measures were put in place to ensure unimpeded access to the building during the protest, with extra support staff also on hand for anyone distressed by the flyers.