Better Off Dead
Better Off Dead
Mar 29, 2016
#14 Australia's Dark Little Secret
Play • 53 min

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 no one is going to answer this call. Not in this society. So they have got to die alone.'

Victorian Coroner John Olle, appearing before the Parliament of Victoria's 2015 Inquiry into End Of Life Choices

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).

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Better Off Dead: Interview with Frances Coombe

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Robert ‘Brownie’ Brown was a much-loved and prominent figure in South Australia’s environmental conservation movement. Faced with a life of physical decline, where he could no longer do the things that were important to him, Brownie made the decision to end his life.

Unusually, the 94-year-old left a note for the coroner – emphasising that he didn’t want depression listed as the cause of his suicide.

Andrew spoke with South Australian Voluntary Euthanasia Society president Frances Coombe – a woman to whom Brownie was a close friend and mentor for over six decades – about the grim choice being made by many elderly Australians.

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In this episode

  • Joan Upton
  • Annette Upton
  • Marshall Perron
  • Mark Johns
  • John Olle (re-enacted by Andrew Martin)
  • Philip Nitschke
  • Kevin Yuill

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 'I Am Piano' (Peter Broderick), 'Quiet' (This Will Destroy You), 'Says' (Nils Frahm), 'She/Swimming' (Moon Ate the Dark), 'Portrait Gallery' (Luke Howard), 'They Move on Tracks of Never-ending Light' (This Will Destroy You) and 'Forty-Eight Angels' (Paul Kelly).

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, Head of Marketing and Communications Emily Harms, Projects Producer Amita Kirpalani and Digital Manager Jon Tjhia. Editing, sound design and mix on this episode is by Martin Peralta. Additional editing by Bec Fary and Jon Tjhia.

Thank you

Thanks 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

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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