'Why I supported my husband's decision to end his life'

The Western Australian government says its new assisted dying laws give terminally ill patients the choice to die on their own terms, while critics say they put people at risk. This is Margo and Michael's story.

Margo Beilby's husband was diagnosed with a terminal lung disease

Margo Bailey became a campaigner for voluntary assisted dying after her husband's death in 2013. Source: SBS

In a leafy suburb in Perth’s hills, Margo Beilby, 79, spends much of her time knitting in her living room.

“My husband and I built this house, designed it and did most of the carpentry,” she tells SBS News. 

The house is quiet, and the knitting keeps Margo’s mind active and her hands occupied.

After a long battle with lung disease, her husband Michael took his own life in 2013 at the age of 73.  

“He had been a life-long asthmatic, and he gradually got worse until he was diagnosed with COPD – Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary [Disease],” she says. 

“He was down to 20 per cent lung capacity and he faced drowning in his own lung fluids. 

“When he asked how he was going to die, the doctor said, ‘if you’re lucky you’ll get pneumonia and you’ll die relatively quickly’.”

As his health further declined, Michael began to assess his end of life options. He discussed assisted dying with a doctor, but it was not legal in Western Australia at the time.

Instead, he took matters into his own hands using an illegal substance. 

“Obviously I didn’t want to lose him. We had been married for 51 years,” Margo says.

"But I could see that he was suffering and I knew how much he didn’t want to go into hospital. And knew that if he did go into hospital they couldn’t help.” 

Michael died in his favourite chair, with his wife by his side, in the house they had built together.

He left a video message explaining his decision. 

Since Michael’s death, Margo has become one of the hundreds of Western Australians passionately campaigning for the legalisation of assisted dying. 

That campaign, which is at least 40 years old in the state, achieved success this week when after Victoria. 

Terminally ill adults will now have the option to legally end their own lives with the assistance of doctors and nurses.

To access the program, a person must be suffering from a terminal illness that is likely to cause death within six months or 12 months for neurodegenerative conditions. 

A person must be enduring suffering that they consider intolerable, and have the capacity to make their own, independent decisions about the assisted dying process. 

WA's Labor Government joined assisted dying campaigners on the steps of Parliament House
WA became the second state to pass voluntary assisted dying laws in December 2019 Source: SBS

Michael was given a terminal diagnosis, although it is unclear how long he was given to live.  

Margo says if the laws had been around in 2013 he could have benefited from the involvement of a medical professional. 

"He had spoken to doctors about it, but it was not even on the table at that time". 

Assisted dying legislation in WA had previously been defeated on six separate occasions.

In August 2019, the state Labor government introduced the legislation to parliament, following an inquiry into end of life options and the report of an expert panel. 

All members of parliament were given a conscience vote and after several months of debate, the contentious bill passed both houses of WA’s parliament with 55 amendments.

It led to emotional scenes in the public gallery and on the steps of Parliament House.

Voluntary assisted dying campaigners welcomed WA's new laws
There were emotional scenes on the steps of WA's Parliament House when assisted dying legislation was passed Source: SBS

“Every day when you go to work considering this [legislation], you have foremost in your mind, the pain and suffering that many people have experienced at their end of life,” WA Health Minister Roger Cook tells SBS News. 

“This is important legislation, and we all come to it with a great sense of responsibility.”

'Risk of coercion'

Supporters of voluntary assisted dying say it means those who qualify can choose a quick and peaceful death, using a lethal medication, which is overseen by a qualified medical practitioner.

But while the state Labor Government has described WA’s new assisted dying laws as ‘historic’, others have taken a more cautious approach. 

“One of the main concerns is that doctors don’t necessarily have to be an expert in the patient’s condition when assessing the patients for eligibility," Notre Dame University bioethicist Xavier Symons says. 

Critics also say WA’s laws are far more liberal and open to abuse than those in Victoria.

"Under the Victorian laws in 2017, doctors were required to refer the patient to a medical specialist for an expert opinion before signing off on their request for euthanasia. That’s not required under WA's laws," Dr Symons says.

"Rather, two GPs, for example, could assess a patient with pancreatic cancer over their eligibility for assisted dying.

"There’s a problem there because the GPs may not be experts in the conditions that the patient has. This could very easily lead to wrongful deaths.”

Unlike Victoria, WA's laws also allow a doctor to raise the topic of assisted dying with a patient if the patient hasn’t already done so themselves. 

"Medical professionals are some of the most trusted people in our society. Nevertheless, we should be trying to ensure that, as much as possible, requests are coming from patients and not from doctors," Dr Symons says. 

"Or perhaps of more concern, by families who might be pressuring doctors to discuss assisted dying with their loved one.”

Ongoing debate

Having won the support of the parliament, the WA Government believes the concerns won't persist over time.

The state’s health minister rejects claims the new laws are radically different to those in Victoria. 

“I think we struck the right balance. We want a cautious regime but we also want a compassionate regime,” Mr Cook says. 

“There are over a hundred safeguards in this legislation, with respect to making sure patients aren’t abused or coerced into accessing voluntary assisted dying. 

“In addition to that, extra measures were put in as a result of the debate and the government was happy to support them.”

Margo Beilby believes all terminally ill Australians should have access to voluntary assisted dying
Margo Bailey has become an advocate for voluntary assisted dying. Source: SBS

Following the passage of the legislation, assisted dying will become available in WA in 18 months. 

In the meantime, WA health services and medical practitioners will learn about their rights and responsibilities and an independent statutory body will be established to administer the process. 

"In WA, we have the benefit of the experiences of Victoria, in terms of the work they’ve done there to bring their bill into law. We’ll borrow a lot from Victoria,” Mr Cook says. 

“The important thing is to get these laws right. We're going to take very cautious steps to make sure that we have the best regime possible.”

It’s a process Margo wants to see occur across Australia. 

“I’ve heard so many horrible terrible stories of people dying in agony,” she says. 

“Mike’s story was, he had a glass of port, he lay back in his chair and he went to sleep."

“He was dying, and people who are terminally ill should have that option.”

Readers seeking support can contact Lifeline crisis support on 13 11 14, Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 and Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 (for young people aged 5 to 25). More information is available at and .

7 min read
Published 15 December 2019 at 6:48am
By Aaron Fernandes