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, 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?
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.'
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).
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.
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.
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.
Liz and her family, and Rodney Syme. Thanks also to Paul Kelly and Sony ATV for the use of his song ‘Forty Eight Angels’.
This episode was first published in preview form in November 2015. A number of small edits and changes have occurred in the interim.
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