PERTH woman Belinda Teh is making the long trek from Melbourne to her home state’s capital on foot in a bid to raise awareness about voluntary assisted dying.
The 27-year-old former law student’s mother Mareia Teh lost her struggle with terminal breast cancer in April 2016, a short 11 weeks after her surprise diagnosis.
Since then, with the assistance of charity Go Gentle Australia, Ms Teh has been an outspoken advocate for the end-of-life option her mother was denied twice.
She set out on her 70-day, 4500-kilometre Brave Walk campaign on May 28, passed through South Australia in June and will end up at Parliament House in Perth on August 6.
The Weekender spoke with Ms Teh, who is set to arrive in Albany tomorrow afternoon, about the physical and emotional journey she’s been on so far.
“Eight days after I finished my last exam at the University of Western Australia, my mum was diagnosed with stage four advanced aggressive terminal cancer,” she recalled.
“Both of her express requests for assistance to die were denied and as a result she went on to die in a way that will haunt me for the rest of my life.
“A year later I found out it was going to be legal in Victoria.
“I remember thinking to myself if only I could put that law in my pocket and walk it back from Victoria to WA to give it to my mum, but I can’t walk back in time.”
On June 19 this year it became legal for a Victorian resident with a terminal illness to request assistance to die at the end of their life.
That legislation outlined various safeguards and requirements, such as the need for prospective patients to be adults and mentally competent with six months or less to live.
The WA government is currently considering a similar law and Ms Teh intends to arrive at Parliament with a petition full of signatures she accrued on her walk.
Travelling from town to town six days a week and walking up to eight hours and 40 kilometres a day, Mr Teh likened her journey to those being taken by terminally ill people everyday.
She said the idea was for the walk to be an “assisted walk for assisted dying” with a campervan travelling alongside her for when she cannot continue.
“If I ever feel like I’m struggling, if I roll my ankle or I’m overwhelmed by flashbacks of my mum dying, I’m allowed to get into the support vehicle,” she said.
“The message I’m trying to convey is that when you’re embarking on this crazy, difficult, extremely painful journey, it should be okay to ask for and accept help.”
According to a November 2017 national poll conducted by Roy Morgan Research, around 87% of Australians support voluntary assisted dying.
Victoria is the only state in Australia to have enshrined the end-of-life option into law despite more than 50 attempts to pass similar legislation in various Australian parliaments.
Ms Teh said while she had “been getting support across the board,” she expected the issue to resonate particularly strongly in a retiree-centric community like Albany.
“The difference when I speak to older people is they see me walking for them, whereas if I’m in a place where there’s a very young population they see me walking for their mums and dads or grandmas and grandpas,” she said.
After more than 40 days on the road, Ms Teh will meet with Albany residents tomorrow.
This will not be her first time visiting the seaside city with Ms Teh having travelled down from Perth once as a child and again during her university studies.
“I remember seeing those giant islands out in the bay and feeling that was just really beautiful,” she recalled.
“That’s the one image I really took away from my experience there.”
Member for Albany Peter Watson said Ms Teh’s visit would give people the opportunity to speak with her and share their own stories.
“It’s very important people have discussions about voluntary assisted dying because of the very personal nature of the subject,” Mr Watson said.
“To get the legislation right people who have an interest in the issue must have the opportunity to express their views.”
During her stop Ms Teh will be collecting signatures for her petition to the WA Legislative Council, donations for Go Gentle Australia, as well as “hugs, handshakes and high-fives.”
“I would love people to come and realise they’re not alone,” she said.
“We can’t fix a problem unless we acknowledge it’s there and we speak up about what’s happening.”
The hour-long meet will take place at Due South tomorrow at 5:30pm.
Those interested can register for the meet and follow Ms Teh’s journey at www.belindasbravewalk.org.au.