Andrew Denton investigates the stories, moral arguments and individuals woven into discussions about why good people are dying bad deaths in Australia - because there is no law to help them.


  • #17 Why Do I Have to Go Through Hell to Get to Heaven?

    #17 Why Do I Have to Go Through Hell to Get to Heaven?

    12/04/2016 Duração: 52min

    20 years ago, four dying people were able to access the Northern Territory’s world-first law to help them die more mercifully, before the law itself was extinguished. By the end of 2016, over 100 million people on three continents will be able to access such laws – the most recent places to adopt them being America’s most populous state, California, and Canada. Since that Northern Territory law was overturned in 1997, nearly 30 attempts to create a new one here in Australia have failed. But as the tide of history turns in favour of assisted dying, how much longer can our politicians continue to ignore the call for change? Bob Hawke, left, and Heather Bell — Photo credits: Bob Hawke by Eva Rinaldi (CC-BY-SA); Heather Bell, supplied The old arguments that have held such sway – about the elderly and the vulnerable being unsafe under these laws – no longer hold. Over a decade of experience in Europe, and nearly two decades in America, have shown us that the safeguards do work: that good laws can be created to

  • #16 Abandon Hope

    #16 Abandon Hope

    06/04/2016 Duração: 46min

    Paul Russell — Photo: Supplied My search for the truth about assisted dying began when I was invited to attend the HOPE International Symposium in Adelaide, featuring anti-euthanasia speakers from around the world.* There, I heard dire warnings about what was happening in Belgium, the Netherlands and Oregon – where laws to help people die already exist. At their heart lay two key accusations: that the safeguards don’t work, and that the elderly and disabled were threatened. I took careful note. Many months later – having taken off overseas to see if their warnings held true, and spoken to experts worldwide – I sat down with HOPE’s founder and director, Paul Russell, to talk through what I’d learned. * HOPE director Paul Russell has pointed out that he did not invite Andrew Denton to attend a HOPE symposium in May 2015 but rather that he agreed for Andrew to attend. We are happy to correct the record. 'I think what concerns me most is the stuff that you almost can't prove, you know.' Paul Russell, founder

  • #15 Lawries Story

    #15 Lawrie's Story

    04/04/2016 Duração: 43min

    Of all the arguments against assisted dying, the most heartless I’ve heard is this: Suicide is legal. Why do you need assistance to do something that you can do yourself? Every time I hear that thought expressed (and I’ve heard it more than once while making this podcast), I’m astonished at the ease with which the people saying it manage to completely overlook the suffering of the people they’re talking about. In this episode, we’re going to meet one of those people: father of two, Lawrie Daniel. At 50, and stricken with MS, what does it mean to Lawrie to be told, ‘suicide is legal – what’s stopping you?’ Lawrie and Rebecca Daniel at home — Photo: Andrew Denton 'Through MS, I've pretty much lost my fear of dying, because sometimes I think there are things that are worse than death.' Lawrie Daniel 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

  • #14 Australias Dark Little Secret

    #14 Australia's Dark Little Secret

    29/03/2016 Duração: 52min

    The repeated call by opponents of assisted dying is that the elderly and the vulnerable must be protected from coercion. In this, they are right – and there are many safeguards built into existing laws overseas which do exactly that. But what of the elderly described in this episode by two of Australia’s coroners: rational men and women from loving families – who, faced with an irreversible and painful decline into death, are deciding to kill themselves violently instead? Left: Joan Upton (with cake) pictured with her children Greg, Annette and Robert. Right: Philip Nitschke — Photos: Supplied If the law offers them no other way to end their suffering, who could be more coerced than them? And yet, on these vulnerable Australians – including beloved mothers, fathers, partners and grandparents – the opponents are silent. This silence needs to be challenged. It’s time we talked about Australia’s dark little secret. 'They all know it – including doctors. They know that this person is screaming for help but

  • #13 Now Theyre Killing Babies

    #13 Now They're Killing Babies

    23/03/2016 Duração: 57min

    Assisted dying has no more committed opponent than the Catholic Church. They have thrown resources, and the full weight of their political influence, against it wherever it has been proposed. That’s why the words of Sydney’s Archbishop Anthony Fisher – one of Australia’s most senior Catholic clerics, and a man who commands the ear of many politicians – are worth listening to. Archbishop Anthony Fisher, debating ethicist Peter Singer at Sydney Town Hall, 13 August 2015 — Source: YouTube Listen closely, and what you’ll hear is a masterclass in FUD: Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. The same seeds sown by opponents of assisted dying to great effect down the years. What lies inside those little seeds of FUD? In this episode – for the first time – we’re going to find out. 'I think it's almost unheard of that the elderly feel more as a burden and the opposite is true. They feel empowered by this, it strengthens them.' Joeri Veen, spokesperson for ANBO – a peak body representing the Dutch elderly – discussing the i

  • #12 Velvet Ray

    #12 Velvet Ray

    21/03/2016 Duração: 52min

    Ray Godbold is a palliative care nurse faced with terminal cancer – but he doesn’t want to die in palliative care. Robyn and Ray Godbold — Photo: Andrew Denton Ray knows what some doctors prefer not to admit. He knows that, even in palliative care, not everything can be taken care of; that a patient’s choices about how they die are very limited; and that, sometimes, their dying involves a wildness nobody can predict. What Ray doesn’t know is that his own death will turn out to be everything he was hoping that he and his family would be spared. 'I've been there when lots of people have had terrible deaths. No matter what palliative care people say, the last 24 to 48 hours of somebody's life can be completely unexpected.' Ray Godbold Ray and Robyn Godbold's children: Tara, Ella and Rory — Photo: Andrew Denton 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 Conversatio

  • #11 Whose life is it anyway?: palliative care in Australia, part 2

    #11 Whose life is it anyway?: palliative care in Australia, part 2

    16/03/2016 Duração: 55min

    Associate Professor Richard Chye is the director of the Sacred Heart palliative care unit at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney. A gifted physician and teacher, he is also a hugely influential figure in palliative care in Australia. Apart from being a member of various state and national committees, he’s a board member of Palliative Care Australia – the peak national organisation. Responding to my request, Richard invited me to spend a week with his team to see what they do – and to discuss the subject of assisted dying. Two things stood out as I watched the doctors and nurses of palliative care go about their work: the compassion and care from everyone as they helped people to die in often complex circumstances; and just as apparent, a deep resistance to the thought of assisted dying. Exactly how deep I didn’t realise – until I sat down to speak with Richard. Shayne Higson (second left), pictured with her sisters and their mother Jan (farthest right) who died of brain cancer: 'I thought that [with] terminal s

  • #10 Neither hasten nor prolong death: palliative care in Australia, part 1

    #10 Neither hasten nor prolong death: palliative care in Australia, part 1

    15/03/2016 Duração: 48min

    Speaking with doctors in Belgium, the Netherlands and Oregon, I’d learnt that in those places, palliative care and assisted dying are seen as things that go together – and assisting a patient to die may sometimes be the ultimate offer of help for those beyond the skills of even the most dedicated palliative care experts. Spencer Ratcliff had never witnessed such pain as he saw during his partner Deb's final days – pain which palliative care staff were unable to relieve: 'I said, "What are we supposed to do? Just sit and watch her scream herself to death in pain?"' — Photo: Andrew Denton Back home in Australia, the law forbids assisted dying. Without a law to protect or guide doctors and nurses, I wondered: how does palliative care here deal with those same kinds of patients? Richard Chye is the director of palliative care at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney. When I asked him if I could spend a week in his unit to learn what it is they do, I was upfront with him. I told him I believed there should be a law

  • #9 Why should one church decide for all of us? Death with dignity in Oregon

    #9 Why should one church decide for all of us? Death with dignity in Oregon

    07/03/2016 Duração: 49min

    The success of Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act – at 18 years, the world’s longest-running law of this kind – puts two things into sharp relief. Firstly, the increasingly desperate attempts of opponents to discredit it. Secondly, the truth they don’t want you to see – that this law works, and exactly as intended. How that law came to pass in such a religiously conservative country stands as a masterclass in public policy, and one that set the template other US states have since followed. Brittany Maynard: 'I would like all Americans to have access to the same healthcare rights' — Source: YouTube The most significant of these was California, which in 2015 adopted Oregon’s law – thanks in no small part to a woman named Brittany Maynard. Brittany was just 29, and dying of brain cancer, when she left her home in California to go and live in Oregon, where the law offered her a choice about how she died. Her decision to use her dying days to campaign publicly for a similar law in California made her a household

  • #8 Darkness visible: Marjorie, Edith and Laura: Belgium, part 2

    #8 Darkness visible: Marjorie, Edith and Laura: Belgium, part 2

    02/03/2016 Duração: 55min

    Shortly after arriving in Belgium, I learned of ‘Laura’ – a 24-year-old woman who had sought the right to be euthanised after years of unrelieved mental suffering. Immediately, I heard alarm bells. My gut reaction? A 24-year-old who’s not terminally ill? Surely there’s a point at which a society says ‘no: you have too much life ahead of you for us to help you die’. If you’d asked me to tell you the point where it began to feel uncomfortable, this was it. After years of deep isolation, Marjorie Vangansbeke went to ULteam in pursuit of euthanasia. Instead, she came away with a diagnosis that helped her re-embrace her life — Photo: Emily Sexton The days that followed, where I talked with some of Belgium’s leading psychiatrists and physicians, were amongst the most intense I’ve ever experienced. Emotionally, I couldn’t shake the thought that this didn’t seem right. But intellectually, I wondered: is there more here than I know? To be honest, I toyed with not including this story in the podcast: it is so fra

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

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

    29/02/2016 Duração: 48min

    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. Arsène Mullie speaks to Andrew Denton — Photo: Emily Sexton 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 ab

  • #6 Once you start killing, you cant stop: the Netherlands, part 2

    #6 Once you start killing, you can't stop: the Netherlands, part 2

    23/02/2016 Duração: 45min

    For those who hold out the Netherlands as a textbook case of a ‘slippery slope’, they see a law originally designed to help the terminally ill – but that has now ‘slipped’ to include those who aren’t. But the Dutch law wasn’t written to deal only with certain diseases; guided by doctors themselves, it was deliberately created for people whose suffering is ‘unbearable and untreatable’. Barbara Heetman: 'My mother had to say totally from her own brain, heart, whatever, ‘I want this."' — Photo: Emily Sexton This might include, for example, people with long-term, corrosive illnesses such as multiple sclerosis or motor neurone disease. In some circumstances, it may even include people with Alzheimer’s. But if the basis of your law is that only a mentally competent adult can request euthanasia, how do you deal with cases where that competence is unclear? Barbara Heetman’s mother, Jeanne, applied to be euthanised before losing herself in the fog of Alzheimer’s. Her request was considered by the End of Life Clini

  • #5 The keys to life and death in someone elses hands: the Netherlands, part 1

    #5 The keys to life and death in someone else's hands: the Netherlands, part 1

    22/02/2016 Duração: 31min

    The Netherlands’ euthanasia laws are the longest-running in Europe. Surprisingly, the drive to create them didn’t come from politicians; it came from doctors. Recognising that, like doctors in many countries (including our own), they were already assisting people to die, they pushed for a law that would bring the practice into the light – protecting both them and their patients. The Hoffman sisters, interviewed in this episode — Photo: Emily Sexton In Australia, we hear lots of dark things about the slippery slope the Dutch are sliding down. Critics suggest that their euthanasia laws have spawned a system of legalised killing that is now running out of control. But what we never hear are the voices of the Dutch themselves. So I decided to go there to find out, first hand, how this system works – and if it really is out of control. After all, this is a country where euthanasia not only has support across the political spectrum and from all the major medical bodies – but also has one of the highest levels o

  • #4 It can never be perfect, so why try and improve it?

    #4 It can never be perfect, so why try and improve it?

    16/02/2016 Duração: 32min

    Opponents of assisted dying in Australia want to leave things as they are, because of the worrying things they claim might happen if we did have a law. But what about the worrying things that actually are happening because we don’t have one? 'They find themselves often initially charged with murder and … I don't think that society needs or requires that.' Former Victorian Director of Public Prosecutions, John Coldrey Left to right – Cathy Pryor; her mother Anne; her father Peter — Photos: Supplied It is illegal in Australia to aid or abet a suicide, no matter the circumstances. This is, rightly, so that people aren’t encouraged to take their own lives when they are deeply vulnerable, or for someone else’s personal gain. But it doesn’t take into account people like former Tasmanian nurse Cathy Pryor. In the space of six months, Cathy assisted both her grievously ill parents to die. She was charged with, and found guilty, of attempted murder and assisting a suicide. Cathy went to jail until a judge decide

  • #3 The 80-year-old outlaw

    #3 The 80-year-old outlaw

    15/02/2016 Duração: 32min

    According to Canadian anti-euthanasia campaigner Alex Schadenberg, Melbourne doctor Rodney Syme is a threat to society: a ‘cowboy’ and ‘the worst of the worst’. Why? Because for over a decade now, Syme has been publicly assisting terminally and chronically ill patients to die – despite the threat of jail for doing so. How did a respectable 80-year-old urologist come to be a law-breaking cowboy? Melbourne urologist Rodney Syme — Photo: supplied 'I thought: what is ethical about me being able to end my own suffering but my patients have to go on?' Rodney Syme Sandra Morris and Albert Leonzini, both featured in this episode — Photo: Emily Sexton It began 40 years ago, with a patient of his who was dying of kidney cancer. Her name was Betty. Syme could hear her screams from the foyer of the hospital. He didn’t know how to help her – but his conscience was pricked. Syme knew that, as a doctor, if he were in the same kind of pain, he could find drugs – or help from other doctors – that would mean he didn’

  • #2 How dare you want to end your life: Lizs story

    #2 How dare you want to end your life: Liz's story

    15/02/2016 Duração: 32min

    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 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 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

  • #1 The invasion of death

    #1 The invasion of death

    07/11/2015 Duração: 25min

    My name is Andrew Denton. I’m a writer and broadcaster who lives in Sydney, Australia. In October 2015, I delivered a public address arguing for an assisted dying law in my country. This podcast is the end result of that process. In it, you will hear the voices of those who I spoke to for my research and learn the reasons that led me to argue for a new, and merciful, law. Kit and Andrew Denton — Photo: supplied Who am I to be talking to you about a subject as complex as assisted dying? It’s true, I have no expertise … other than the expertise too many of us share: I saw someone I love die badly. My dad, Kit, did not go gentle. Although clearly dying of heart failure, and obviously in great pain, he was assisted to die in the only way that Australia’s law then – and now – would allow: he was given increasing doses of morphine to settle the pain. But morphine never did settle the pain. Not his and not ours. The images of those final three days will never be erased. So, prompted by the death of my father, an

  • Welcome


    05/11/2015 Duração: 43s

    Introducing Better Off Dead – a new podcast from Andrew Denton and the Wheeler Centre. From early 2016, join us as Andrew investigates the stories, moral arguments and individuals woven into discussions about why good people are dying bad deaths in Australia. Subscribe in iTunes, or your favourite podcast app. #betteroffdeadpod 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).