Better Off Dead
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…
Better Off Dead
1 The Belly of the Beast
Spurred by watching his own father die painfully, in 2015 Andrew Denton set out to investigate – why are good people being forced to die bad deaths?
Five years later, Victoria is the first state in Australia to have passed a voluntary assisted dying law. In the first year of the law’s operation, over 120 people sought assistance to die. More than a year into its operation, it is possible to look at the hypothetical harms (and genuine fears) raised by those opposed to the law and compare them with the actual experience of assisted dying.
Paul, Michelle and Jean Caliste, with a photo of Robbie — Paul, Michelle and Jean Caliste. Photo: Michael Gleeson, ABC News supplied by Go Gentle Australia
In the first episode of season two of Better Off Dead, we meet the family of 36-year-old Robbie Caliste. Robbie was diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MND) in the same year the Victorian parliament endorsed medical assistance to die. In November 2019, he became the youngest person to die under the law.
Robbie and his parents Jean and Michelle help us understand the word which, more than any other, underpins what this law is all about; a word beyond ‘pain’ – suffering.
“He didn't want Motor Neuron Disease to win ... He didn't want to be literally that prisoner in the body and looking at you with his eyes. It had done enough damage to him and he knew what the outcome was going to be.” – Jean and Michelle Caliste
Robbie Caliste with his mother and brother — Photo: Supplied
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 needs support please 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). If you are at risk…
Take It From Me
Archer Launch Edition
Our much-loved sex and relationships advice series, Take It from Me, is back – and badder than ever, gleefully tossing up handfuls of laughter, love and stardust. Join us to celebrate queerness and launch the new edition of Archer magazine: the Friendship Issue.
With an address from Archer Magazine editor-in-chief Lucy Watson, performance and reading from the new…
Last Words: Voluntary Assisted Dying
CHANGE OF VENUE
Due to forecast weather conditions, we have relocated this event to The Wheeler Centre. For information on accessing the Wheeler Centre, please see here.
If you have booked tickets to this event, please retain your current tickets and present them at the Wheeler Centre. Please be aware that the new seating arrangement will be general admission theatre style with unreserved…
Pill Pop: Growing Up Disabled in Australia
‘This book will change history. It’s the first of its kind in Australia. And I hope it won’t be the last. We deserve better representation in literature.’
Edited by writer, speaker and appearance activist Carly Findlay, the new anthology Growing Up Disabled in Australia captures the complexity and nuance of life with disability, reflected by its diverse range of more…
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