Life & death
Better Off Dead
Bonus Episode 14: Last Words: Voluntary Assisted Dying
Victoria’s Voluntary Assisted Dying law came into effect in June 2019. The first of its kind in Australia and touted as the most conservative in the world, the passing of Victoria’s law was a watershed moment for end-of-life care in this country.
More than eighteen months on, in April 2021, what effect is this law having on end-of-life care for terminally ill Victorians? Is the law working as planned? And is there room for improvement?
The final episode of Better Off Dead season two centres on a recording of the Wheeler Centre’s Last Words: Voluntary Assisted Dying panel discussion. Previously broadcast on Radio National’s Big Ideas programme, it features a panel discussion on voluntary assisted dying hosted by Paul Barclay. Panelists include Andrew Denton, founder of Go Gentle Australia and host of the Better Off Dead podcast; Justice Betty King QC, Chair of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board; Professor Phillip Parente, oncologist; and Ron Poole, a terminally ill Shepparton man who has chosen to access the voluntary assisted dying life-ending medication.
Our special thanks to Ron Poole, who generously took time out of the precious final days of his life to share his perspective on voluntary assisted dying. Ron died on 26 April, less than a week after this panel discussion took place. Our thoughts are with his loved ones.
"People come to this often – late. And they come late because they really haven’t known about it, haven’t been told about it or are in a situation where they don’t want to face mortality."Justice Betty King Know more Visit Go Gentle Australia gogentleaustralia.org.au Audio: Legalising Voluntary Assisted Dying -- Radio National’s Big Ideas programme, part of Caxton Legal Centre's 'Justice in Focus' series. Presented in conjunction with QUT. Recorded on 21 February 2019 Visit: Voluntary Assisted Dying -- Victorian Health official website
In order of appearance: Paul Barclay, Ron Poole, Andrew Denton, Phillip Parente, Betty King
Better Off Dead season two is produced by the Wheeler Centre and Go Gentle Australia.
Learn more about Go Gentle Australia’s work.
Writer, Co-Producer and Host: Andrew Denton (Go Gentle Australia)…
Last Words: Voluntary Assisted Dying
For years, the topic of Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) has sent moral and ethical ripples through Australian political, civil and personal debate. Since VAD legislation came into effect in Victoria in June 2019, more than one hundred people have received legal and medical assistance to die.
At this important panel discussion in April, we heard from medical and legal experts…
Better Off Dead
13 Unintended Consequences
When Victoria’s VAD law was passed in 2017, it was touted by Premier Daniel Andrews as ‘the most conservative in the world’. This was true. Its 68 safeguards made it a far more daunting law for terminally ill people to access than similar laws in other countries.
But was it too daunting?
Much was said in parliament by opponents about the law’s ‘unintended consequences’. What if there are wrongful deaths? What if the doctor-patient relationship is damaged? Palliative care diminished?
None of these fears have turned out to be true. But that doesn’t mean there have been no unintended consequences. They’ve just turned out to be not as opponents argued.
In this episode, we hear from the families of two eligible Victorians who struggled to access VAD. And we hear something never heard before —-- a father and daughter as they actually go through the process of applying for a VAD permit, a process during which initial gratitude quickly turns to frustration, fear and anger.
Allan Cornell and his daughter Kristin: photo Supplied
“She wrote numerous letters and made numerous phone calls to, it seemed like, 30 neurologists, but nobody would do it. And Helen's doctor said ,’I think this is gonna be a race between us getting the approval for the VAD and you dying’”Reg Jebb
Helen and Reg Jebb. photo: Supplied
“He was dying. He was suffering. He was begging, begging me the entire day to finish it. Where are they? Kristin? Where are they? Where are they?”Kristin Cornell
Kristin Cornell: “I am so encouraged by the existence of this legislation – but there is more we can do. We can do this better. It shouldn’t be so hard that one is tempted to give up.” Photo: Juliet LamontEmbed player <iframe frameborder="0" height="300" scrolling="no" src="https://www.wheelercentre.com/embed/audio/99e14e0b-b559-4e6b-a8f7-3dea2d1be446" width="100%"></iframe> Listen Episode Extra: Doctors Discuss the Unintended Consequences of Victoria's VAD Law Know more Visit Go Gentle Australia gogentleaustralia.org.au Article: ‘Assisted dying is not the easy way out’ — The Conversation, 19 Feb 2020 Article: ‘Without more detail, it’s premature to say voluntary assisted dying laws in Victoria are…
Better Off Dead
12 A Cry For Help
Whether it is through the words of the pope, his representatives the bishops and archbishops, or its surrogates in the medical profession, the Catholic Church remains the most determined force against voluntary assisted dying in Australia.
In 2020, The Vatican released its latest encyclical on assisted dying and euthanasia. They called it Samaritanus Bonus – the Good Samaritan – and this is what it had to say about people who seek assistance to die.
“Experience confirms that the pleas of gravely ill people who sometimes ask for death are not to be understood as implying a true desire for euthanasia; in fact, it is almost always a case of an anguished plea for help and love.”
Requests for assistance to die are ‘not to be understood as a true desire for euthanasia.’ In other words, the people making them are somehow misguided.
According to this narrative, people making such requests are likely to be demoralised; lonely; abandoned, feeling like a burden; or struggling to find meaning in – or even giving up on - their lives. And that, with the right kind of love and care, these things can be addressed.
In this episode, we hear from some of the most senior figures in Australian palliative care. We also hear from others who have a different understanding of such requests, and who believe that the people who make them can be both considered and rational.
Professor Michael Ashby Photo: Supplied
Palliative care clinician Molly Carlile AM: “It has to be about why are we doing this. Who is it for? If it's about us, we have to ask: how does our view on a whole lot of things influence our practice?” photo: Supplied
“It is not the role of any healthcare team to suggest that its ministrations can give meaning, purpose and dignity to a dying person’s remaining life if that person feels that these are irretrievably lost... Palliative care is a model of care, not a moral crusade.”Professor Michael Ashby Know more Visit: Go Gentle Australia gogentleaustralia.org.au Video: Assad, Assisted Dying and Satire – ABC TV Q&A,…
Better Off Dead
11 The End of Life Lottery
The assisted dying debate in Australia has revealed two parallel universes. The conservative Christian universe, which believes our lives belong to God; that whatever happens at the end of life is part of His plan. And the other universe – embracing 75% of Australians (including a majority of Christians) – with a shared belief we should have some control over how we die.
Two different, but both entirely sincere, belief systems.
What happens when these parallel universes intersect? What can it mean to die in a system where you are disempowered, and whose values you don’t share?
Dame Cicely Saunders Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Shayne Higson (second left), pictured with her sisters and their mother Jan (farthest right) who died of brain cancer: 'I thought that [with] terminal sedation … there would be no suffering, but that's not right' — Photo: supplied
“What people don't realise is that they're entering an environment with particular values, and a history about what is okay, or not okay, and the nature of suffering. And by entering into that the patient and the family is almost embarking on an unwritten contract – that death will be not on my terms, but on the terms of the institution”Professor Alex Broom Know more Visit Go Gentle Australia gogentleaustralia.org.au Article: We do not like to talk about death -- but that doesn’t make euthanasia the answer -- Richard Chye, The Sydney Morning Herald, 14 November, 2017 Article: Assisted dying: My mother had the best palliative care -- and even that was not enough -- Shayne Higson, The Sydney Morning Herald, 15 November, 2017 Audio: Fearfully and Wonderfully Made (part 1) -- Megan Best, The Centre for Public Christianity, 24 June, 2013 Film: ‘The Broken Hearted’ Go Gentle Australia, August 2019
Jan K: 'You might think you're going to have great palliative care, but it is an absolute lottery. You can scream the place down if you want but, if they think that you're comfortable, that's it.' Photo: Joshua RaymondIn this episode
In order of appearance:
Katie Harley, Megan Best, Alex Broom, Richard Chye, Shayne Higson, Roger…
Better Off Dead
9 The Light Under the Bushel
In September 2020, as Tasmania’s Upper House prepared to debate an Assisted Dying bill, an article appeared on the online publication Mercatornet. Above a picture showing a graph of a flatlining heartbeat superimposed over an elderly hand was a headline in big, bold letters:
‘Grandma took her life yesterday. Her doctors helped her.’
The article described a lonely, elderly woman, seemingly abandoned by her family in a Melbourne nursing home during COVID, encouraged by her doctors to end her life using Victoria’s Assisted Dying law.
Photo: the image used by Mercatornet
Within days, it was being promoted by religious groups and The Australian Family Association as a warning to MPs about why they should vote down the Tasmanian bill.
In this episode, we reveal the truth behind that story. Who was Grandma? Had her family really abandoned her? Was her decision to die her own, or was she encouraged?
And what was it that connected the crusading author and the website that gave her story a global platform?
‘Just to get out of bed, you could tell she was in pain... she was really struggling. My brother said, ‘God, if Mum could have that medicine tomorrow, she would take it.’ Everybody was understanding because we all knew what she'd been through and didn't want her to go through that again.‘Ruth’s’ daughter ‘Jane’ For more Visit Go Gentle Australia gogentleaustralia.org.au Audio: Neil Mitchell clashes with former Catholic priest over protest outside Peter Mac Cancer Centre – 3AW Newstalk, 11 April 2019 Video: Fatal Fraud: A case study of tactics employed against evidence-based public policy initiatives – Go Gentle Australia, August 2019 Article: Code of Ethical Standards for Catholic Health and Aged Care Service in Australia – Catholic Health Australia, June 2001 Medical and Biblical Response to Euthanasia -- Dr Megan Best and Dr Andrew Sloane – Christian Medical and Dental fellowship of Australia, 2019 In this episode
In order of appearance:
Neil Mitchell, Eugene Ahern, ‘Bronwyn’, ‘Jane’, Tom Kenyon, Helen Lord, Leon Compton, Megan Best, Andrew Sloane, Tom Keneally, Stephen Parnis, Roger Hunt, Greg Mewett, Molly CarlileCredits
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