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Better Off Dead Season 1: #2 How Dare You Want to End Your Life: Liz’s Story

Listen Monday, 15 Feb 2016
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Liz is a dynamic 48 year-old businesswoman who’s dying of cancer. She wants to have a choice about how she dies because she’s been through palliative care. In her words: ‘They can’t control your pain, let me tell you. I’ve been there.’

Liz in her apartment with some of the equipment needed to test the lethal, and illegal, drug Nembutal — Photo: Andrew Denton

Liz’s first plan was to apply to the Dignitas Clinic in Switzerland, the only country in the world that will legally help terminally ill people from other countries to die. But she’s rebuffed by her specialist – who refuses to support her application on the basis that ‘it will mean that I’ve failed at my job.’

In Australia, there is no law for assisted dying, which means that Liz’s only other option, if she wants to have any say over her fate, is to live – and die – outside the law.

Plan B involves illegally importing the lethal drug Nembutal. Beyond the arduous testing process – and the ever-present fear of the police knocking on her door – Liz is now faced with the terrible calculus of dying.

Does she try and hang on till her son’s wedding, and run the risk that she will suffer the death she fears? Or does she say goodbye to everything she loves, and take Nembutal? And, if she does, how can she do that without incriminating her family?

Illegally importing Nembutal requires a lengthy process of testing to verify its purity. These photos, taken at Liz’s house, depict some of that process – which took six hours in total — Photos: Andrew Denton

What is it like to live in fear that your death may incriminate the ones you love? That the only solution is to die alone?

Welcome to Liz’s world.

I am fearful of that end road to death when you are actively dying. I know they can’t control my pain.’



Know more

In this episode

  • Liz
  • Rodney Syme

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 ‘Paris, Texas’ (Ry Cooder), ‘Another Routine Day Breaks’ (Brokeback), ‘Space Kay’ (Daniel Lanois), ‘Boga’ (Amiina), ‘Reach for the Dead’ (Boards of Canada), ‘Good Times’ (Jim O’Rourke), ‘Up to Pizmo’ (Labradford), ‘Plastic Energy Man’ (Papa M), ‘Ten Day Interval’ (Tortoise), ‘White Mustang II’ (Daniel Lanois), ‘Moving Thought’ (Lori Scacco feat. Tim Delaney) and ‘Forty-Eight Angels’ (Paul Kelly). Additional original music and sound design by Jon Tjhia.

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. This episode was edited and mixed by Jon Tjhia.

Thank you

Liz and her family, and Rodney Syme. Thanks also 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

This episode was first published in preview form in November 2015. A number of small edits and changes have occurred in the interim.


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.

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The Wheeler Centre acknowledges the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation as the traditional owners of the land on which we work. We pay our respects to the people of the Kulin Nation and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders, past and present.