Better Off Dead
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#4 It can never be perfect, so why try and improve it?
Opponents of assisted dying in Australia want to leave things as they are, because of the worrying things they claim might happen if we did have a law.
But what about the worrying things that actually are happening because we don’t have one?
Former Victorian Director of Public Prosecutions, John Coldrey
'They find themselves often initially charged with murder and … I don't think that society needs or requires that.'
It is illegal in Australia to aid or abet a suicide, no matter the circumstances. This is, rightly, so that people aren’t encouraged to take their own lives when they are deeply vulnerable, or for someone else’s personal gain.
But it doesn’t take into account people like former Tasmanian nurse Cathy Pryor.
In the space of six months, Cathy assisted both her grievously ill parents to die. She was charged with, and found guilty, of attempted murder and assisting a suicide. Cathy went to jail until a judge decided that both were clearly acts of compassion, and allowed her to walk free.
The record shows Cathy is a convicted criminal. But should she ever have faced trial?
According to former Victorian Director Of Public Prosecutions, John Coldrey, it is inappropriate that someone acting out of love should have to go through what Cathy went through.
As a judge, Coldrey has himself been faced with similar crimes. He recounts his emotional decision to let Victorian man Alex Maxwell walk free after assisting his cancer-stricken wife to die.
In a society when there is no law for assisted dying – but where people are being assisted to die anyway – Coldrey is just one of many who believe that our law around assisted dying needs to be reconsidered.
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).
In 2004, Tasmanian man Stuart Godfrey was charged with assisting his mother, Elizabeth, to die. He faced a maximum sentence of 21 years in jail and received a 12 month suspended sentence conditional on good behaviour. Stuart hasn’t spoken publicly since the day he left court. Now, he breaks his silence.
- Research sources: Do Australian Doctors Assist Patients to Die?
- Article: 'Nurse set to appeal over conviction', by Maria Rae – The Examiner, 20 December 2005
- Article: 'Assisted suicide case prompts calls for euthanasia law review' – ABC News, 20 December 2005
- Article: 'Police question Nagambie GP over "lethal dose" to help patient die', by Richard Baker and Nick McKenzie – The Age, 18 December 2015
- Article: 'Having a choice about how and when my mum died would have provided her with comfort and peace', by Rachel Friend – Daily Telegraph, 15 November 2015
- Article: 'Dear Mum, sorry I didn't kill you', by Tracey Spicer – Sydney Morning Herald, 13 June 2013
- Video: 'Dangers of Legalized Euthanasia? - Tony Abbott' – FORA.tv, 6 April 2009
- Video: 'IQ2 Debate: Should Euthanasia Be Legalized?' – FORA.tv, 2 March 2009
In this episode
- Cathy Pryor
- John Coldrey
- Coral Levett
- Rodney Syme
- Margaret Otlowski
- Marshall Perron
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 'Hold Me Through' (Luke Howard), 'The Sinking Belle (Blue Sheep)' (Sunn O))) and Boris), 'Hand, Be Still' (Olafur Arnalds), 'Dysnomia' (Dawn of Midi), 'We (Too) Shall Rest' (Olafur Arnalds), 'Burial on the Presidio Banks' (This Will Destroy You), 'I Might Be Wrong' (Radiohead), 'Weatherman Accountable' (Big Noble), 'Videotape' (Radiohead) 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, Projects Producer Amita Kirpalani and Digital Manager Jon Tjhia. Editing, sound design and mix on this episode is by Martin Peralta. Additional editing by Jon Tjhia.
Thank you to Stanley Street Gallery in Sydney. Thanks also 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.
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.