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Better Off Dead

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#5 The keys to life and death in someone else's hands: the Netherlands, part 1

Listen to #5 The keys to life and death in someone else's hands: the Netherlands, part 1

The Netherlands’ euthanasia laws are the longest-running in Europe.

Surprisingly, the drive to create them didn’t come from politicians; it came from doctors. Recognising that, like doctors in many countries (including our own), they were already assisting people to die, they pushed for a law that would bring the practice into the light – protecting both them and their patients.

The Hoffman sisters

The Hoffman sisters, interviewed in this episode — Photo: Emily Sexton

In Australia, we hear lots of dark things about the slippery slope the Dutch are sliding down. Critics suggest that their euthanasia laws have spawned a system of legalised killing that is now running out of control.

But what we never hear are the voices of the Dutch themselves. So I decided to go there to find out, first hand, how this system works – and if it really is out of control.

After all, this is a country where euthanasia not only has support across the political spectrum and from all the major medical bodies – but also has one of the highest levels of public approval in the world.

Perhaps there’s more to these laws than we’ve been told?

'It only lasted five minutes, but when I think back about it, it feels like a whole life – because we had this humour and this pure love feeling in the house. And I know for sure, and I can say with a hand on my heart, this is exactly how mother wants this.'

Marian Hoffman – describing the euthanasia of her mother, Gret, who was dying of cancer
Eric van Wijlick and Andrew Denton

Eric van Wijlick and Andrew Denton — Photo: Emily Sexton

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).

Hear more

Better Off Dead: interview with Rob Jonquière

The Dutch Right To Die Organisation, known locally as the NVVE, is 160,000 members strong – bigger than any political party in the Netherlands. They are essentially the patient’s advocates, advising them about their end of life choices and arguing for their rights under the law. Listen to former NVVE chief executive (and at the time of this interview, their interim director), Rob Jonquière.

Know more

In this episode

  • Alex Schadenberg
  • Theo Boer
  • Henk Reitsema
  • Susan Hoffman
  • Marian Hoffman
  • Eric van Wijlick
  • Gerrit Kimsma

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 Might be Wrong' (Radiohead), 'Life Story' (Ólafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm), 'Loftið Verður Skyndilega Kalt' (Ólafur Arnalds), 'Says' (Nils Frahm) 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, Projects Producer Amita Kirpalani and Digital Manager Jon Tjhia. Editing, sound design and mix on this episode is by Martin Peralta. Additional editing by Camilla Hannan. 

Thank you

Thanks to field producer Emily Sexton, 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.