The Australian assisted suicide enthusiast Philip Nitschke (aka Dr
Death), of Exit
International, is again visiting the British Isles but his tour is
not going at all well. As of February 20 two of his five meetings have been
cancelled whilst protesters outnumbered attendees at a third.
on how to commit suicide, scheduled for the Sovereign Harbour Yacht
Club in Eastbourne, East Sussex on 21 February was canceled by the
club. A spokesman said that management had not realized the
‘significance’ of the event and wanted to avoid the publicity of
‘something this controversial.’
A second event, due to be held
at the Community Arts Forum in Belfast on 19 February was
also cancelled after it was learnt that Nitschke planned to
demonstrate his new ‘deliverance voluntary euthanasia machine’. Centre
representative Heather Floyd said the centre was ‘not suitable for
something of this nature’.
He had, a few days before, been detained
at Heathrow airport when the said machine was discovered in his
Nitschke’s controversial visit
to Ireland last week also proved to be anti-climactic after only a
handful of people turned out for his Dublin suicide workshop, over half
of whom were journalists. The Australian had attempted to vet attendees
of the lecture, but had so few takers that he eventually decided to open
the venue to anyone.
Even so, according to Niamh Uí Bhriain of
the Dublin-based Life Institute, only 20 people attended, 12 of whom
were with the press. During the lecture, over 50 people demonstrated
outside, carrying signs reading ‘Suicide “workshop” illegal and sick,’
and ‘Lock up your grannies, Dr. Death is here.’
Prior to the
event she had written to Dublin’s Garda (police) Commissioner saying
that the workshop contravened Ireland’s criminal code prohibition
against counseling suicide, and asking that it be shut down.
Nitschke’s suicide workshops include information on how to commit
suicide, for which he recommends the drug Nembutal. He has admitted that
his organization, Exit International, has given information on how to
obtain the drug from Mexico even to young people who have stated their
intention to commit suicide. Nitschke is the inventor of the ‘exit bag,’
a plastic bag that he says can be fitted over a person’s head to
suffocate them after taking the drugs.
The demonstration, which
was supported by the Life Institute, was organized by Maria Mhic
Meanmain whose elderly parents both died following debilitating
illnesses. Mhic Meanmain said that Nitschke was ‘normalizing suicide,
and bringing about a situation where elderly and sick people would feel
they had a duty to die.’
Niamh Uí Bhriain said, ‘We’re losing
more than 600 people a year due to suicide, and every case is a tragedy
which leaves families devastated,’ she said. ‘Nitschke’s reckless and
dangerous promotion of suicide will lead directly to the death of people
in this country.’
Nitschke has only two remaining meetings
scheduled, in Cardiff and London, on 24 and 26 February respectively.
‘workshops’ in the UK may now well be in breach of the Suicide Act,
which after amendment in 2009, now makes ‘encouraging or assisting’
suicide a criminal offence.
In a 2001 interview on ‘National
Review Online’ Nitschke was asked who would qualify for access to
the ‘suicide pill’. He replied that ‘all people qualify, not just those
with the training, knowledge or resources to find out how to “give away”
their life and someone needs to provide this knowledge training or
resource necessary to anyone who wants it, including the depressed, the
elderly, bereaved, the troubled teen’.
In the same article
Nitschke said that the so-called peaceful pill should be ‘available in
the supermarket so that those old enough to understand death could
obtain death peacefully at the time of their choosing’.
Nitschke is an extremist and self-publicist who has not surprisingly
courted huge controversy.
His visit is a timely reminder of the
dangers of any change in the law to make assisted suicide more readily
Dr Peter Saunders is a former general surgeon and CEO of Christian Medical Fellowship,
a UK-based organisation with 4,500 UK doctors and 1,000 medical students
members. This article has been cross-posted from his blog, Christian Medical Comment.
UPDATE: Dr Nitschke did speak to about 30 people in Cardiff at the Quakers Meeting House on February 24. However, the Quakers cancelled an over-50s workshop on suicide methods. It had to be held in a nearby hotel later on.