Robert 'Bob' Dent (23 August 1930 — 22 September 1996) was a carpenter and tradesman. Suffering from terminal prostate cancer, Dent was the first person to use the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act of the Northern Territory to die from legally-sanctioned euthanasia.
Born in Sydney, Dent was apprenticed to a carpenter at 14 and became proficient in several trades, earning a general builder's license. He moved to Groote Eylandt with his first wife and their two sons to work as a missionary, charged with training locals in carpentry. However, his building skills were in much demand, and he soon began a role with the Department of Housing and Works constructing community housing; Dent even gained his private pilot's license to facilitate the transport of materials around the Territory. After surviving Hurricane Tracy over Christmas 1974, and separating from his first wife, Dent relocated to Adelaide, where he met his second wife, Judy, in 1976.
In 1996, after suffering from prostate cancer for five years, Dent dictated a letter to Judy dated 21 September, the day before his death. Addressed to Australian Members of Parliament, it detailed his terminal diagnosis and the poor quality of life he now endured, and reiterated his willingness to die. He stated how grateful he was to be in the position to use 'the most compassionate piece of legislation in the world' to end his life 'in a dignified and compassionate manner.' (Nitschke, [n.d.]).
Dent died at home in Darwin, with the lethal injection overseen by Dr. Philip Nitschke. His wife Judy was with him. After a lunch of sandwiches and beer, Dent presented his arm and Nitschke inserted a needle connected via cannula to a bag of saline containing the lethal drugs and to a laptop computer. The computer presented the patient with three questions confirming that he wished to end his life. Dent reportedly said, 'Let's do it,' and pressed the spacebar for the required third time, dispensing three drugs - thiopentone, pentobarbitone, and atracurium - that first put him to sleep and then stopped his breathing ("The fight to end a life", 1996). He died peacefully in a few minutes. Nitschke certified the death (Nitschke, [n.d.]).
The circumstances were widely reported and 'the resulting furore... ran the gamut between approval and vociferous condemnation.' (Fraser & Walters, 2000, p. 121). By February of the next year, Parliament had received 14,000 written submissions regarding the law (Mydans, 1997). The Rights of the Terminally Ill Act would eventually be overruled by Parliament six months after Dent died. His widow, Judy, continues to advocate for voluntary euthanasia in the Territory.
Fraser, S. I., & Walters, J. W. (2000). Death - whose decision? Euthanasia and the terminally ill. Journal of Medical Ethics 26: 121-125. https://jme.bmj.com/content/medethics/26/2/121.full.pdf
Mydans, S. (Feb 2, 1997). Legal Euthanasia: Australia Faces A Grim Reality. The New York Times, p.3. https://www.nytimes.com/1997/02/02/world/legal-euthanasia-australia-faces-a-grim-reality.html
Nitschke, K. [n.d.] Bob Dent. Exit International. https://www.exitinternational.net/story/bob-dent/
The fight to end a life. (27 September 1996). Sydney Morning Herald. https://www.smh.com.au/national/the-fight-to-end-a-life-19960927-gdfboi.html
Northern Territory Euthanasia Collection - Introductory Speech by Marshall Perron on Bob Dent Day, 21 September 2006
Northern Territory Euthanasia Collection - Speech by Marshall Perron on Bob Dent Day, 22 September 2004
Northern Territory Euthanasia Collection - Speech by Marshall Perron to a Public Forum on Voluntary Euthanasia, Perth, 17 October 2001
Northern Territory Euthanasia Collection - Dying in Australia - Taking Control, Keynote Address by Marshall Perron, Broken Hill, 3-5 August 2001
Northern Territory Euthanasia Collection - Letter from Marshall Perron to Philip Nitschke, 17 June 2012
Northern Territory Euthanasia Collection - Media Release by Marshall Perron, 'Minister for Misery', 1 July 2002.
Northern Territory Euthanasia Collection - Address to S.A.V.E.S Annual General Meeting by Marshall Perron April 1999
Northern Territory Euthanasia Collection - A Public Address on Voluntary Euthanasia New Zealand, May 1997
Northern Territory Euthanasia Collection - Address by Marshall Perron, National Press Club, Canberra, 16 October 1996
Northern Territory Euthanasia Collection - Key Dates in the Birth, Life and Death of the N.T. Rights of the Terminally Ill Act