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Better Off Dead

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#11 Whose life is it anyway?: palliative care in Australia, part 2

Listen to #11 Whose life is it anyway?: palliative care in Australia, part 2

Associate Professor Richard Chye is the director of the Sacred Heart palliative care unit at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney. A gifted physician and teacher, he is also a hugely influential figure in palliative care in Australia. Apart from being a member of various state and national committees, he’s a board member of Palliative Care Australia – the peak national organisation.

Responding to my request, Richard invited me to spend a week with his team to see what they do – and to discuss the subject of assisted dying.

Two things stood out as I watched the doctors and nurses of palliative care go about their work: the compassion and care from everyone as they helped people to die in often complex circumstances; and just as apparent, a deep resistance to the thought of assisted dying.

Exactly how deep I didn’t realise – until I sat down to speak with Richard.

Shayne Higson, her sisters, and their mother Jan

Shayne Higson (second left), pictured with her sisters and their mother Jan (farthest right) who died of brain cancer: 'I thought that [with] terminal sedation … there would be no suffering, but that's not right' — Photo: supplied

'Love has got many ways of operating, I think … and I believe that assisting someone to die can be a loving act.'

Professor Ian Maddocks, first Chair of Palliative Care at Flinders University, and first President of the Australian and New Zealand Society for Palliative Medicine

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).

Know more

In this episode

  • Richard Chye
  • Ian Maddocks
  • Shayne Higson

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 '21:05' (Ólafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm), 'You Know Me Well' (Sharon Van Etten), 'The Shooting' (Nils Frahm), 'All of Me Wants All of You' (Sufjan Stevens), 'Videotape' (Radiohead) and 'Forty-Eight Angels' (Paul Kelly).

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.

Further information

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, Head of Marketing and Communications Emily Harms, Projects Producer Amita Kirpalani and Digital Manager Jon Tjhia. Editing, sound design and mix on this episode is by Martin Peralta. Additional editing by Bec Fary.

Thank you

Thanks to Stanley Street Gallery, and to Paul Kelly and Sony ATV for the use of his song ‘Forty Eight Angels’.

The series

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Better Off Dead is produced by Thought Fox in partnership with the Wheeler Centre. It is written and created by Andrew Denton for Thought Fox.


Portrait of Andrew Denton

Andrew Denton

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.