'Backyard euthanasia': the shocking cases that could change the law

WARNING: The content of this story may be distressing.

Barbara Collins was waiting in the kitchen when her husband of 50 years walked out into the backyard and shot himself.

He had woken her that morning, a mild summer day at their home in Raymond Island in the Gippsland Lakes. They had sat together in the living room and said their final goodbyes.

When it was time, he hobbled outside on his crutches and collected his gun, locked away in the safe stored in the garden shed.

Robin Collins' body would lie on a patch of grass, near the Hills Hoist, for about 30 minutes before the police arrived.

Robin and Barbara Collins on their wedding day. Photo: Supplied

Robin and Barbara Collins on their wedding day. Photo: Supplied

Later, forensic cleaners would do their best to wash away all evidence of the shooting. But there was a piece of grass where his blood and other body matter remained, so they cut it away. For months, Barbara had to water the newly sown piece of lawn.

That final morning, Barbara had stayed inside the house, as Robin had requested. However, when she called triple zero, they asked her if she could look into the backyard to see if her husband was moving.

The sight of him lying in the grass continues to play over her mind, but as she said last week: "When the police arrived, sirens blazing, all I could think was: 'He's not suffering anymore'."

There's a palpable anguish that comes with knowing someone you love has lost their will to live; that the fear of dying a painful death riddled with disease has overtaken their desire to keep going.

As a father, husband, and engineer, Robin had always been stoic and determined. Other men might be handy with their tools, he forged his own out of iron. He built boats, and was a champion sailor. He built a plane, and he and Barbara flew around Australia.

Robin works on his plane in the backyard.

Robin works on his plane in the backyard. Photo: Supplied

He was also not one to talk about pain. So when he got sick with myelofibrosis???, a form of blood cancer, his family could only helplessly observe his decline. His daughter Amanda Collins knew that her father was likely to shoot himself. She just didn't know when.

"My dad was always a law abiding man. He owned guns and taught us to use and to store them responsibly," Amanda said.

"He refused to implicate any of us in his death, especially my mum. But he knew that he couldn't tolerate any more days of utter misery.

"So my darling dad was alone at the most terrifying moment of his life. To this day I don't know how he had the courage to do it."

Robin Collins sailing on a championship-winning catamaran that he built.

Robin Collins sailing on a championship-winning catamaran that he built. Photo: Supplied

Robin Collins' story is emblematic of an unavoidable reality: that many terminally ill Victorians are choosing to end their lives, rather than endure the intolerable suffering they expect to face in its final stages.

Sometimes that death is aided and assisted: the growing number of people who have sought advice on how to illegally obtain barbiturates over the internet; the doctors who covertly adhere to their patients' request for terminal sedation or a lethal dose of drugs to hasten their death.

Amanda Collins is speaking out about her father's horrific death in the hope it could help others.

Amanda Collins is speaking out about her father's horrific death in the hope it could help others. Photo: Eddie Jim

And in recent years, there's been an emerging trend of people inhaling a certain chemical that has traditionally been used for home brewing, but is now marketed as a deadly gas by a company affiliated with pro-euthanasia group Exit International.

But far too often, that death is solitary and violent. Figures from the Victorian Coroners Court suggest that 240 people who experienced "irreversible decline" in their physical health took their own life between 2009 and 2013.

There was the 90-year-old man who had lived his life as though it was a gift, but killed himself with a household tool after the melanoma spread to his brain.

There was the 59-year-old cancer patient who underwent 22 cycles of treatment, but was later found by a motorist under a bridge on a major Victorian freeway.

And there was the 82-year-old woman with a long medical history of hypertension, insomnia, arthritis, and gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, who bled to death. She had lost her eyesight - and with it, her ability to read books, which had always been her joy.

Fairfax Media has chosen not to include some of the raw details of the Coroner's evidence, much of which was so shocking it profoundly shaped the parliamentary inquiry that would ultimately form the basis of Victoria's euthanasia reforms.