After Life

This radio feature examines the ways in which the public hospital system responds to the needs of people from non-European cultures who die in hospital. In particular, we hear from a nurse, Trish Bullen, who tells the story of "Fred", a young Chinese buddhist man for whom she cared while he was dying from liver cancer.

This story was broadcast nationally on ABC Radio National’s Life Matters program on 2001-07-31. It received the 2001 University of Technology Journalism Award for Best Radio Feature.

The original feature is 15 minutes in length; a heavily-edited version (4 minutes 45 seconds) is available here as a fairly low-quality MP3 (1.1 Mb download).

Presenter intro and tape details


Death: it’s probably the most challenging, intimate and mysterious moment of our lives. We all hope that when we come to that inevitable appointment we will be with our family and friends, and will have at hand whatever spiritual guidance and support we need.

It wasn’t so long ago that most people died at home in the care of their families. But these days many Australians – more than ever before – will die not at home but in a large metropolitan hospital. For people of a non-Western religious background, the challenges the hospital faces in responding to the spiritual needs of its patients and their families can be daunting. Buddhists, in particular, place great emphasis on leaving the body undisturbed for as long as possible after death while important rituals are carried out.

So how does an institution the size of a large public hospital meet these challenges? How do they resolve that conflict between meeting the spiritual needs of patients who have died and making often scarce resources available for the sick? The people at the front line here are often nursing staff, who often find themselves advocating on their patients’ behalf against a sometimes inflexible hospital system.

We’re going to hear now the story of a young Chinese Buddhist man, and the nurse who cared for him up to his death – and beyond.

FW: [music] “Generally we don’t handle death in hospital fabulously…”

LW: “…I guess that’s what, that’s how it affects me.” [music]

Duration: 14′ 31"


Nurse Trish Bullen, speaking with Paul Kidd. We also heard from the Assistant Abbott of the Hwa Tsang Monastery in Homebush, the Venerable Ban Ruo, and Anglican chaplain the Reverend David Pettett.

Talent (in order of appearance):

  1. Trish BULLEN, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Prince of Wales Hospital.
  2. Venerable Ban RUO, Assistant Abbott, Hwa Tsang Monastery.
  3. (Translating) Venerable Neng RONG, Hwa Tsang Monastery.
  4. Rev. David PETTETT, Coordinator, Chaplaincy Service, Prince of Wales Hospital.


  1. Michael Stearns, “Monk with Bell”, Baraka: Music from the original motion
    , BMG.
  2. Shu-Cheen Yu, “How can I not think of him?”, Lotus Moon, ABC Classics.
  3. Dead Can Dance, “The Host of Seraphim”, Serpent’s Egg, WEA/Warner