Tonight I reflect on the life of Anne Louise Gabrielides. I also pay tribute to her life partner, Paul. Together they championed the rights of others, demonstrating a lived commitment to improving the quality of life of so many. Sadly, Anne left this world on 6 January 2018, surrounded by family and friends. She suffered from motor neurone disease and, although she was determined to make the best of her life, she eventually succumbed to her condition.
Not long before she died Anne sent this message out to the world via social media:
My MND has progressed rapidly. I am in a wheelchair now. I am fed via a tube in my stomach to avoid choking. Yet whilst I can, I intend to suck every drop of life, every drop of wine and every kiss I can.
Anne was an incredible human. She was a wife, a partner, a mother, a sister, a colleague, a teacher and an activist. She was a much-loved member of the Blue Mountains community and enjoyed special relationships with many across the Blue Mountains and further afield.
Anne started life as a teacher, studying at the Kuring-gai College of Advanced Education where she met her husband-to-be, Paul Gabrielides. Clearly, Anne and Paul were destined to be a formidable duo—Anne with her determination, care for others, patience and love of life, and Paul with his irreverence and sense of humour. They were a great match. Eventually Anne and Paul had three children. They bought a house in Winmalee, which soon became their family home. At the recent celebration of her life in Leura, it was clear that Anne was not only the love of Paul's life but also the cherished mum of Michael, Christopher and Eleni. She was fortunate to become the proud Ma to Harriet not long before she died. She was brave, determined and very much loved.
In spite of the health issues Anne was dealing with, and her deteriorating health that left her unable to speak and struggling to walk, Anne and Paul continued their activism in support of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017. When she lost the ability to speak Anne asked me to be her voice. I was humbled and privileged to do so. Some of my colleagues in this place had the opportunity to meet Anne and Paul when they came to visit. They were smart, articulate and could run an argument in support of their case. What was clear to all who met them was that Anne was not only fighting this fight for herself but she was also standing up for all those who do not have a choice in how and when they die.
Motor neurone disease is an extremely debilitating disease that renders the body useless. In the case of motor neurone disease, the usual palliative care remedies are challenged in providing a comfortable death and, instead, terminal sedation is often the only option to address this unbearable suffering. Of course, this not only impacts the sufferer but also their family. This is an unbearable situation for all involved, including those providing care. I acknowledge the work of the Dying with Dignity NSW team, who worked so closely with Anne Gabrielides to advocate for law reform. I acknowledge particularly Gabrielle, Shayne and Sarah: They are a formidable team committed to justice for all and to standing up for the rights and dignity of those facing unbearable pain and suffering in their life.
I acknowledge the respectful way in which the NSW Parliamentary Working Group on Assisted Dying worked alongside people with terminal illnesses. We will get there next time. Finally, Paul, in honouring your Annie I want to say this: Your reading of the poem Surrender will stay with me forever. Your unconditional and empowering love and strength is heartening. Vale Annie Gabrielides. You fought the good fight until the very end, and the struggle for choice continues.