Better Off Dead
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#1 The invasion of death
My name is Andrew Denton. I’m a writer and broadcaster who lives in Sydney, Australia.
In October 2015, I delivered a public address arguing for an assisted dying law in my country. This podcast is the end result of that process. In it, you will hear the voices of those who I spoke to for my research and learn the reasons that led me to argue for a new, and merciful, law.
Who am I to be talking to you about a subject as complex as assisted dying?
It’s true, I have no expertise … other than the expertise too many of us share: I saw someone I love die badly.
My dad, Kit, did not go gentle. Although clearly dying of heart failure, and obviously in great pain, he was assisted to die in the only way that Australia’s law then – and now – would allow: he was given increasing doses of morphine to settle the pain.
But morphine never did settle the pain. Not his and not ours.
The images of those final three days will never be erased.
So, prompted by the death of my father, and based on a year of research, I’ve tried to seek out the truth about assisted dying. How does it work, who is it for … and is it safe?
To do that, I’ve travelled to countries where laws to help people die already exist. And I’ve spoken to people on all sides of this debate: doctors, nurses, activists, opponents and, most particularly, the dying and their families.
'In Australia, we have no law to help the terminally or chronically ill die, which means that good people are being forced to die bad deaths. I want to find out why.'
You may not know this, but Australia was the first place in the world to pass a law giving terminally ill people the legal right to be helped to die. That was in the Northern Territory in 1995. But, within a year, that law had been overturned by the newly-elected conservative Federal Government. Only four people had been able to use it.
Were Australians happy to see the law gone? No. Every opinion poll taken in this country since, shows overwhelming public support – in excess of 70% – for assisted dying.
But of the 27 attempts to pass a new law in the last 15 years, not one has come close to succeeding.
It doesn’t make sense. Why can’t we help people who are in great pain and beyond medical help to die?
Welcome to Better Off Dead.
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) require immediate assistance, 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).
Andrew Bunn from Essential Research takes you through the polling on assisted dying in contemporary Australia.
- Article and video: 'Andrew Denton on dying' – 6minutes, 14 December 2015
- Article: 'Death in Amsterdam', by Margaretta Pos – The Monthly, May 2013
- Transcript: 'An Argument for Assisted Dying in Australia: Andrew Denton's Di Gribble Argument in full', by Andrew Denton – wheelercentre.com, 2 November 2015
- Article: 'Euthanasia and assisted suicide laws around the world', by Sabine Cessou, Kim Willsher, Lauren Gambino, Philip Oltermann and Leo Cendrowicz – Guardian, 18 July 2014
In this episode
- Jo and Pip Denton
- Vic Dawson
- Margaretta Pos
- Catherine Glenn Foster
- Paul Russell
- Brendan Malone
- Father John Fleming
- Kevin Yuill
- Alex Schadenberg
- Nancy Elliott
Our theme music was composed by Zig Zag Lane for Zapruder's Other Films and edited by Jon Tjhia. Music used in this episode includes 'Paris, Texas' (Ry Cooder), 'Miserere' (Gregorio Allegri; performed by Choir of King's College, Cambridge), 'Gentle Piece' (Craig Armstrong), 'Snippet' (Nils Frahm), 'White Mustang II' (Daniel Lanois), 'Me' (Nils Frahm), 'Firestarter' (The Prodigy), 'White Rabbit' (Jefferson Airplane), 'Glory Box' (Portishead), 'Snow Theatre/Final Steps' (tomandandy), 'Sogg' (Amiina), 'Flite' (The Cinematic Orchestra) and 'Forty-Eight Angels' (Paul Kelly). Additional original music and sound design by Jon Tjhia.
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.
Better Off Dead is produced by Thought Fox and the Wheeler Centre.
Executive producers Andrew Denton and Michael Williams. Producer and researcher Bronwen Reid. For Better Off Dead, the Wheeler Centre team includes Director Michael Williams, Head of Programming Emily Sexton, Projects Producer Amita Kirpalani and Digital Manager Jon Tjhia. This episode was edited and mixed by Jon Tjhia.
Jo and Pip Denton, Vic Dawson, Margaretta Pos, Paul Russell and HOPE, Stanley Street Gallery in Sydney, and Paul Kelly and Sony ATV for the use of his song ‘Forty Eight Angels’.
This episode was first published in preview form in November 2015. A number of small edits and changes have occurred in the interim.
Andrew Denton is widely recognised as one of Australian media's genuinely creative forces.
All messages as part of this discussion and any opinions, advice, statements, or other information contained in any messages or transmitted by any third party are the responsibility of the author of that message and not the Wheeler Centre.
Better Off Dead
Andrew Denton investigates the stories, moral arguments and individuals woven into discussions about why good people are dying bad deaths in Australia – because there is no law to help them.