Better Off Dead
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#2 The Fire or The Fall
Warning: This episode of Better Off Dead contains references to suicide and self-harm. These include discussions about how some terminally ill people have tried to end their lives in the absence of voluntary assisted dying laws. We are aware of the Mindframe guidelines on appropriate language around the discussion of suicide and self-harm, and we have endeavoured to limit this detail.
If you are likely to be distressed by this material, we recommend that you proceed with caution. Please have a self-care plan in place and let others know that you may be upset. Please see a list of services at the bottom of this episode page.
The images from 9/11 of people jumping from the World Trade Centre to escape the searing heat of the buildings melting beneath them haunt us still.
Accepting that the only choice facing these people was a choice of how they would die – death by fire, or falling into oblivion – NYC’s Chief Medical Examiner, Charles Hirsh, chose to classify their deaths, not as suicides, but as homicides.
In the Victorian parliamentary debate, MPs opposed to voluntary assisted dying repeatedly described it as ‘state sanctioned suicide’. But is offering a dying person a choice about how they die the same as suicide?
Perhaps the most persuasive voice that convinced MPs to legalise assisted dying was that of coroner John Olle. The lonely and brutal suicides he described to a parliamentary inquiry – of elderly and terminally ill Victorians beyond the help of palliative care, rational people supported by loving families – sent a shock wave through the parliament.
In this episode we meet Lisa, whose mum Margaret was a fiercely independent 82-year-old woman dying of a rare degenerative neurological disease. The race to meet the strict eligibility requirements of the VAD law, before she lost the ability to communicate her wish to be helped to die, meant that for Margaret each waking day was filled with fear.
Faced with the prospect of her illness moving faster than the law, and that she will not be able to leap free, will Margaret have no choice but to be taken by the fire?
Lisa Hogg, Margaret’s daughter
“For the months preceding Mum initiating the VAD process, Mum would say things like, ‘I’ve worked out how to do it’. My sister would ask, ‘Do what?’ and she would say that she had worked out how she was going to kill herself. The methods included throwing herself out of bed onto the hard floor and cutting herself with scissors or a knife.”
- Visit Go Gentle Australia gogentleaustralia.org.au
- Article: ‘Dying with dignity: Coroner’s Court weighs in to euthanasia debate ahead of historic report’ – The Age 28 May, 2016
- Article: ‘She died quietly and peacefully with her family around her’ – Go Gentle Australia, 5 August 2020
- Video and article: ‘Lawrie’s Last Letter’ – Go Gentle Australia, 26 October 2016
- Video: ‘Homily on Assisted Dying’— Bishop Tim Harris, Archdiocese of Townsville, 11 October 2020
- Letter: A Pastoral Letter to the People, Clergy and Religious Catholic Communities of Queensland, Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on No Euthanasia Sunday, 11 October 2020
- Report: ‘Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board: Report of Operations January to June 2020’ – Safer Care Victoria, 31 August 2020
- Film: ‘The Broken Hearted’ Go Gentle Australia, August 2019
- Statement: ‘Suicide” Is Not the Same as Physician Aid in Dying’ – The American Association of Suicidology, Approved October 30, 2017.
In this episode
For legal reasons, the words of Parliamentarians spoken in this episode are performed by actors.
In order of appearance: Lisa Hogg, Lawrie Daniel, Rebecca Daniel, Tim Harris, Mark Coleridge, Nick Goiran.
Better Off Dead season two is produced by the Wheeler Centre and Go Gentle.
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 Lisa Hogg and the Daniel family for their time for this episode.
Footage supplied courtesy of Seven Network. All rights reserved. ©
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 .
Download a transcript of this episode in PDF format.
If you or someone you know needs support please contact one of the following 24/7 support services: Lifeline on 13 11 14, The Suicide Call Back Service (1300 659 467), MensLine Australia (1300 789 978), or Kids Helpline (1800 551 800).
If you are at risk of harm to yourself or others, contact emergency services immediately by dialling Triple 0.
Andrew Denton is widely recognised as one of Australian media's genuinely creative forces.