Better Off Dead
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#14 Australia's Dark Little Secret
The repeated call by opponents of assisted dying is that the elderly and the vulnerable must be protected from coercion. In this, they are right – and there are many safeguards built into existing laws overseas which do exactly that.
But what of the elderly described in this episode by two of Australia’s coroners: rational men and women from loving families – who, faced with an irreversible and painful decline into death, are deciding to kill themselves violently instead?
If the law offers them no other way to end their suffering, who could be more coerced than them?
And yet, on these vulnerable Australians – including beloved mothers, fathers, partners and grandparents – the opponents are silent.
This silence needs to be challenged. It’s time we talked about Australia’s dark little secret.
Victorian Coroner John Olle, appearing before the Parliament of Victoria's 2015 Inquiry into End Of Life Choices
'They all know it – including doctors. They know that this person is screaming for help but no one is going to answer this call. Not in this society. So they have got to die alone.'
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).
Robert ‘Brownie’ Brown was a much-loved and prominent figure in South Australia’s environmental conservation movement. Faced with a life of physical decline, where he could no longer do the things that were important to him, Brownie made the decision to end his life.
Unusually, the 94-year-old left a note for the coroner – emphasising that he didn’t want depression listed as the cause of his suicide.
Andrew spoke with South Australian Voluntary Euthanasia Society president Frances Coombe – a woman to whom Brownie was a close friend and mentor for over six decades – about the grim choice being made by many elderly Australians.
- Transcript: 'Standing committee on legal and social issues: Inquiry into end-of-life choices' (PDF), including statements by coroner John Olle – Parliament of Victoria, 7 October 2015 (source)
- Interactive: 'The big sleep', by Julia Medew – Sydney Morning Herald, 12 January 2016
- Article: 'Shaw family calls for Victorian Government to consider assisted death laws', by Julia Medew – Age, 16 February 2016
- Article: 'Brighton couple found dead in 'suicide pact'', by Lucie Morris-Marr – Herald Sun, 13 November 2015 (paywall)
- Opinion: 'Somebody kill my grandmother. Please', by Sian Prior – Age, 13 November 2015
- Opinion: 'My mother euthanased herself. Was it empowerment, or despair?', by Nikki Gemmell – Australian, 16 January 2016
- Opinion: 'Andrew Denton has fallen for the doctors' spin on the euthanasia debate', by Fiona Stewart – Brisbane Times, 8 November 2015
- Article: 'Philip Nitschke: I don't judge people at all if they want to die', by Melissa Davey – Guardian, 27 December 2015
- Article: 'SA coroner calls for debate about elderly people who end their lives alone', by Simon Royal – ABC News, 7 February 2015
In this episode
- Joan Upton
- Annette Upton
- Marshall Perron
- Mark Johns
- John Olle (re-enacted by Andrew Martin)
- Philip Nitschke
- Kevin Yuill
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 'I Am Piano' (Peter Broderick), 'Quiet' (This Will Destroy You), 'Says' (Nils Frahm), 'She/Swimming' (Moon Ate the Dark), 'Portrait Gallery' (Luke Howard), 'They Move on Tracks of Never-ending Light' (This Will Destroy You) and 'Forty-Eight Angels' (Paul Kelly).
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, 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 and Jon Tjhia.
Thanks to Paul Kelly and Sony ATV for the use of his song ‘Forty Eight Angels’.
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.