Martin Burgess is 70, has no political experience and has untreatable cancer that has spread to his lung, but that hasn’t stopped him putting his hand up for a seat at the next election.
Mr Burgess was one of the three Voluntary Euthanasia Party candidates confirmed on Tuesday, and said while he had no idea of his chance of winning the marginal Darwin-based seat of Solomon, his campaign with the Philip Nitschke-led group was not a publicity stunt.
‘‘It’s not a stunt – I was involved in the campaign [in the Northern Territory in the mid-1990s] and I have been passionate with allowing the terminally ill to have death with dignity my whole life,’’ he said.
Dr Nitschke will stand as an ACT candidate for the Senate, and told Fairfax Media he hoped his candidacy would force the major parties to engage with the politically sensitive topic. ‘‘We’re obviously going to put the issue of voluntary euthanasia centre stage,’’ he said.
Dr Nitschke said Mr Burgess was not the only seriously ill person who had put up their hand for the election, but disputed any view he was misusing the individuals.
‘‘There will be a candidate in Adelaide in that same category,’’ he said. ‘‘Some people have said it could be considered as some sort of exploitation – but these people are passionate.’’
Mr Burgess said he had decided to stand as a candidate in the past fortnight, after his attempts to arrange what he called ‘‘dignified death insurance’’ in Switzerland became impractical. The retired massage therapist said it would have cost more than $10,000, excluding airfares, to see Swiss doctors and arrange documentation in advance of a future voluntary end to his life, when the time came.
‘‘When the time came when I was basically going to end up in a nursing home, palliative care, I was going to go over to Switzerland and say goodbye,’’ Mr Burgess said.
When he realised the Swiss option – which Dr Nitschke had assisted with – was not feasible, he asked the controversial doctor how he could help make changes locally.
‘‘He said I could put myself forward, or he could put me forward, and I thought why not ... the way I feel right now, bar falling under a bus or something stupid, I’m going to be around another 10-15 years,’’ he said.
Despite acknowledging he knows nothing about politics, Mr Burgess could have an impact on the seat’s outcome. In 2010, Solomon was won by the Country Liberals by less than 1800 votes on a two-candidate preferred basis, and the ALP took the seat in 2007 by 196 votes.
Dr Nitschke said both major parties would be interested in preferences in the seat.
The largely Darwin-based advocate will move to Canberra for the campaign, and said it was an important place for the new party to target, with membership figures in the capital showing firm interest in his ‘‘end-of-life choices’’ Exit International group.
‘‘We’ve got nearly 5000 members nationally and more than a proportionate number – about 450 – in the ACT,’’ he said.
Shayne Higgson, who worked to support the recently defeated Rights of the Terminally Ill Bill in NSW, will stand as the party’s Senate candidate in that state. The party – launched in April – hopes to tap into apparent widespread support for law reform on the issue.
In December, voluntary euthanasia advocate group YourLastRight.com found 82 per cent of respondents in a poll of more than 2500 people said a doctor should be allowed to provide a lethal dose of drugs on request to a hopelessly ill patient experiencing unrelievable suffering, with no chance of recovery.