Better Off Dead
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#1 The Belly of the Beast
Spurred by watching his own father die painfully, in 2015 Andrew Denton set out to investigate – why are good people being forced to die bad deaths?
Five years later, Victoria is the first state in Australia to have passed a voluntary assisted dying law. In the first year of the law’s operation, over 120 people sought assistance to die. More than a year into its operation, it is possible to look at the hypothetical harms (and genuine fears) raised by those opposed to the law and compare them with the actual experience of assisted dying.
In the first episode of season two of Better Off Dead, we meet the family of 36-year-old Robbie Caliste. Robbie was diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MND) in the same year the Victorian parliament endorsed medical assistance to die. In November 2019, he became the youngest person to die under the law.
Robbie and his parents Jean and Michelle help us understand the word which, more than any other, underpins what this law is all about; a word beyond ‘pain’ – suffering.
“He didn't want Motor Neuron Disease to win ... He didn't want to be literally that prisoner in the body and looking at you with his eyes. It had done enough damage to him and he knew what the outcome was going to be.” – Jean and Michelle Caliste
Please note: this podcast is not about suicide. If you are interested in increasing your understanding of suicide and how to support someone experiencing suicidal ideation, visit the Conversations Matter or beyondblue websites.
If you or someone you know needs support please contact one of the following 24/7 crisis support services: Lifeline (13 11 14), Suicide Call Back Service (1300 659 467), MensLine (1300 78 99 78), beyondblue (1300 22 4636), Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800) or eheadspace (1800 650 890). If you are at risk of harm to yourself or others, contact emergency services immediately by dialling Triple 0.
Visit Go Gentle Australia gogentleaustralia.org.au
Article: ‘More than 130 Victorians apply to end their lives in first six months of state's assisted dying laws’ – ABC News, 19 February 2020
Article and audio: ‘Twelve months of voluntary assisted dying in Victoria’ - The Conversation Hour, ABC Radio National, 15 June 2020
Report: ‘Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board: Report of Operations January to June 2020’ – Safer Care Victoria, 31 August 2020
Article and video: ‘Spotlight on Carers: A Reality and a Labour of Love’ by Jean Caliste – MND Victoria, 19 October 2020
In this episode
In order of appearance: Jean Caliste, Pip Denton, Jo Denton, Spencer Ratcliffe, Shayne Higson, Ella Godbold, Robyn Godbold, Heather Bell, Rory Godbold, Shayne Higson, Karen Hitchcock, Michelle Caliste, Peter Abetz, Stephen Parnis, Nancy Elliott, Kylie Monaghan, Chris Morgan, John Daffy, Ian Haines, Natasha Michael, Mark Coleridge, Helen Lord.
Better Off Dead season two is produced by the Wheeler Centre and Go Gentle Australia.
Learn more about Go Gentle Australia’s work.
Writer, Co-Producer and Host: Andrew Denton (Go Gentle Australia)
Series Co-Producer and Script Editor: Bethany Atkinson-Quinton (The Wheeler Centre)
Associate Producers: Kiki Paul and Steve Offner (Go Gentle Australia)
Audio Editor and Engineer: Martin Peralta
Production Assistant: Alex Gow (The Wheeler Centre)
Marketing: Emily Harms (The Wheeler Centre), Steve Offner and Frankie Bennett (Go Gentle Australia)
Publicity: Debbie McInnes (DMCPR Media)
Episode Pages: Mia McAuslan (The Wheeler Centre)
Episode Transcript: Alice Boyle
Commissioning Editors: Kiki Paul (Go Gentle Australia) and Caro Llewellyn (The Wheeler Centre)
Theme music: ‘Loydie’s Angel’, written and performed by Jordan Laser
Episode artwork: Megan Herbert
Special thanks to our interviewees Jean and Michelle Caliste for their time for this episode.
Footage supplied courtesy of Seven Network. All rights reserved. ©
Your stories If you're suffering, or someone you love has died badly – in a hospital, in palliative care, in a nursing home, or at home – add your voice and tell your story here.
Download a transcript of this episode in PDF format.
Andrew Denton is widely recognised as one of Australian media's genuinely creative forces.