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Better Off Dead

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#7 The killing fields of Belgium: Belgium, part 1

Listen to #7 The killing fields of Belgium: Belgium, part 1

If there is an epicentre for anti-euthanasia sentiment, it’s Belgium – home to what are often described as the most liberal euthanasia laws in the world. Here, people of any age – even, in some circumstances, children – can be euthanised.

Allegations are made of a euthanasia culture that has become so uncaring that the elderly are regularly despatched without their consent. The word ‘murder’ is sometimes used.

Arsene Mullie and Andrew Denton

Arsène Mullie speaks to Andrew Denton — Photo: Emily Sexton

Photo of Tom Mortier

Tom Mortier — Photo:

Yet for all these claims, since Belgium’s euthanasia law was introduced in 2002, public support for it remains phenomenally high (over 80%) – and there has been no procession of Belgians coming forward to complain about what the law has done to their families.

Which is why Tom Mortier’s story is so powerful.

Alleging the wrongful death of his mother under this law, he has put a human face to the slippery slope.

Tom’s story is being used around the world as the ultimate cautionary tale about the fluidity of Belgium’s laws. There’s no doubting the pain that he feels. But is it a true reflection of a law – and a society – gone wrong?

'How can you say that you don't want to help if you're in palliative care? What do you do then with patients who want euthanasia? How can you say to a patient who suffers, "keep suffering, tomorrow it will be better"?'

Arsène Mullie, retired senior palliative care physician, Flanders


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 Marc Desmet

No doctor comes to the question of euthanasia lightly. In Belgium – a predominantly Catholic country – questions of faith, morality, and ethics often collide. Here’s palliative care physician, and Jesuit, Marc Desmet discussing his own complex relationship with euthanasia.

Know more

In this episode

  • Tom Mortier
  • Yves Desmet
  • Arsène Mullie
  • Alex Schadenberg
  • Jan Bernheim
  • Margaret Otlowski
  • Luc Proot
  • Kevin Yuill
  • Jacqueline Herremans
  • Lieve Thienpont

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 'We Disappear' (Jon Hopkins), 'B1' (Ólafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm), 'A2 (Max Cooper remix)' (Nils Frahm), 'Abandon Window' (Jon Hopkins), 'Hunting Bears' (Radiohead), 'I Might be Wrong' (Radiohead), 'Against the Sky' (Harold Budd and Brian Eno), 'Hammers' (Nils Frahm), 'The Mighty Rio Grande' (This Will Destroy You) 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 field producer Emily Sexton, and to Paul Kelly and Sony ATV for the use of his song ‘Forty Eight Angels’.

The series

Subscribe in iTunes, or your favourite podcast app. #betteroffdeadpod

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.