Law, ethics & philosophy

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Podcast episodeCover image for of #2 The Fire or The Fall

Better Off Dead

2 The Fire or The Fall  /  Law, ethics & philosophy

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…

Podcast episodeCover image for of #1 The Belly of the Beast

Better Off Dead

1 The Belly of the Beast  /  Life & death

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

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