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Euthanasia and Youtube

This contribution has been submitted to Webdiary by a student in the Online Journalism unit for the Masters in Media Practice and Masters in Publishing courses at The University of Sydney as part of the unit's assessment. The topics covered in the pieces awaiting publication are interesting – and diverse. We hope that Webdiarists will enjoy reading them, as well as giving these aspiring journalists plenty of constructive commentary.

Euthanasia and Youtube
by Joanna Egan

In early August 2008, a video appeared on youtube.com showing a young Australian woman begging people to help her obtain the illegal euthanising drug, Nembutal.

The terminally ill girl called herself Ann, and appealed that she wanted to choose when to end her suffering.

Her name was Angelique Flowers.

The young Melbourne writer had been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at the age of fifteen, and then, one week before her 31st birthday, was diagnosed with advanced-stage bowel cancer and given two months to live. She was told her final days would most likely be spent in terrible pain.

Unwilling to die under such conditions, Ms Flowers embarked on a mission to obtain Nembutal (often referred to as ‘the peaceful pill’), and to appeal to the Australian Government to legalise euthanasia. She did so using the popular video-networking site, youtube.com.

Through Youtube she was able to infiltrate the Australian media. She was on the front page of the Sun-Herald, and the Age, and was one of the headlines on the television and radio news.

In her second video, Ms Flowers is lying on a bed, and for the most part of the video is describing in minute detail the unbearable pain and indignity of her illness.

“I’ve been robbed of my living and my now my dying,” she said. “All I want after 16 years of painful Crohn’s disease, and now cancer, is a pain-free, peaceful death”.

Towards the end of the tape, she appeals to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to reintroduce the legislation that made euthanasia lawful in the Northern Territory which was outlawed in 1997.

The video prompted Green’s leader Bob Brown to launch a fresh euthanasia bill into the senate.

“Angelique's brave appeal should shame Australian politicians who ignore the 80% public support for euthanasia,” he said.

Margaret Tighe, President of the anti-euthanasia group, Right to Life, says that if euthanasia is legalised in Australia, it will encourage more elderly and ill people to consider the option.

“To pass such legislation would place at risk those whose lives are most vulnerable…

they could feel that they had the duty to die, rather than the right, they wouldn’t want to be a burden to their family.

“Legalising euthanasia would make it less urgent for us to care our sick and elderly,” Ms Tighe said.

In the video, Miss Flowers, thanks the pro-euthanasia organisation Exit International (who declined to comment for this story) for showing her the different end-of-life options.

There are many more video postings (all under the name: exityourtube) of others undertaking to end their life. They show people journeying to Mexico to buy euthanising drugs to buy euthanising drugs. They show people travelling to Switzerland, to undergo “physician assisted suicide”. One even shows elderly ‘Betty’ preparing her kitchen so she can cook up a batch of the ‘peaceful pill’.

Most are made by terminally ill people, who are desperate to die on their own terms. Many of them appeal to the Australian government to make euthanasia legal.

Ms Flowers was able to obtain Nembutal, but for reasons unknown, did not use it to end her life. She died on 19th August, 2008, from a predicted bowel obstruction. Following her death, and her Youtube appeal, euthanasia is once again a hot topic of public debate.

For better or worse, Youtube has given a voice to those who otherwise would not be heard by the masses. Stakeholders in climate change, whaling, political campaigns – and now euthanasia – use the site as a stage to broadcast their message. The personal nature of Youtube videos makes the delivery of the tragic messages from those tangled up in the euthanasia debate all the more confronting – and, as we’ve seen through Australia’s reaction to Ms Flowers’ video, all the more effective.


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The right to choose.

Joanna, Congratulations on writing such an interesting post. You offered your readers a sensitive and objective view of euthanasia, one that will hopefully leave people less likely to judge the decisions of others.

I found an essay that helps shed light on Australia’s law enforced stand on euthanasia. It made me realize that the question of euthanasia’s legality is really about about the fate of those who aided in the act and are left behind once it’s done.

Is it so wrong to help someone who desperately wants to end his or her life painlessly?

Everything from religion, morality, and a country's legal laws can be debated and discussed till we are blue in the face. But as Angelique, I believe, showed by fighting to obtain ‘the peaceful pill’ and then deciding not use it in the end, people simply want their right to choose.  

Oh no, I proofread, and read, and read

Luke, I too would have loved to have heard what Exit International had to say. Unfortunately, they didn't want to answer my questions. Despite much pestering from me I got little out of them - see below.

As for the proof reading, the double up was a  mistake by the person who uploaded it to webdiary - indubitably due to the deluge of student submissions they received on Friday and the subsequent amount of hyperlinks they had to create. I proof read that thing until it didn't make sense anymore. 

Lisa, I was also fascinated by why Ms Flowers didn't end up taking the Nembutal in the end. All I managed to get out of Exit International on the issue was the unilluminating: "there's a lot of information about her death that we're not releasing into the public domain".


Joanna - congratulations on highlighing such a serious issue.

As sad as it was to watch the video, I know my mind was already made up well before I read your piece - but its always refreshing to see an argument thoughtfully written, especially when the subject matter needs to be handled so tactfully.

Nice one.

Compliments on your article

Joanna, I want to compliment you on this interesting article. Coming from the only country in the world where euthanasia is openly practiced (The Netherlands), I am always very interested to read about policies of other countries. In the Netherlands a doctor is allowed to terminate the life of a patient who wishes to suffer no longer. The request to the doctor must be voluntary, explicit and carefully considered and it must have been made repeatedly. Moreover, the patient's suffering must be unbearable and without any prospect of improvement. I personally think it is a shame that a woman in so much pain has to go on Youtube to express her desire. I am not saying we should play God and help everybody who wishes to end his of her life but I do think it must be an option for people when the pain is reaching intolerable levels.

It is the same with the legalisation of marihuana in the Netherlands. Very often I have to defend myself and explain why this soft drug can be legally obtained in my country. I can tell you that my friends and I never tried to smoke marihuana. Why not? Because we are allowed to do it and we don’t see the additional benefit of it. Here in Australia I have met a lot of people who are smoking marihuana on a frequent basis even knowing that it is illegal.

So what I am trying to say is that by keeping something illegal it doesn’t mean people don’t do it. The only difference is that by allowing it, you can control the product in terms of safety and quality. People will keep ending their own live whether euthanasia is legal or not, the only difference is that when it is controlled by the government people can do it safely in the presence of a doctor.

YouTube strikes again!

Hey Joanna. Gosh, it is so interesting to see the power that YouTube has over society. Euthanasia is such a heated topic and "Ann" took such an interesting approach using this medium to reach anyone/everyone.

In regards to the actual debate, it is so sticky. Everyone has their own opinion but it isn't until they are in the position of someone like Ms Flowers that it actually matters. Why she didn't actually take her own life in the end is a bit confusing to me. but the fact that she was victorious with the help of YouTube is interesting.

In regards to your article, this was one of the best articles I have read of the student articles. I think that they way you balanced the debate was fair and it was easy to read, as well as interesting. It is hard to write about such controversial topic, but the approach you took worked and to left the controversy behind and focused on the media aspect of this situation. Nice work!

Distressing for all

Joanna, you raise so well a burning issue that confronts so many these days as cancer in particular is more common and causes such a dreadful dying -though not in all cases.

As a Christian I have real problems with euthanasia but do not believe we should deny those who want it the right to end their lives if life has become so intolerable.  A non-believer should not be held captive to another's belief system and believers should be allowed to make and reconcile their decison with their God. That is not for anyone else to do for them.

I cannot think of a more distressing experience in life than to see a loved one dying in terrible pain, be asked to help them expedite death, and fail to give that help.

Peaceful Pill?

Superb title!

It  immediately conjured images of iReport style citizen journalism which, coupled with the inherently individual and personal notion of euthanasia, proved a poignant and remarkably effective method of  drawing me in to this one, despite my partiality to beef stroganoff.

It does look as though it could've done with a proofread, although some of those double ups could've been hyperlink related in transferring the article onto the site.

Excellent personal quotes too; I would love to have read what Exit International had to say about your story.

I was alarmed recently at discovering this book in my friend's bookstore in Auckland (sealed and with an R18 sticker on it of course). It seems to have slipped under the radar over there; though they are a bit less conservative over there. Perhaps it was a concession to not condoning euthanasia with policy.

Marking, marking

This one should pass.  Good balanced reporting.

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