The right-to-die movement has split into two warring camps, according to Australian euthanasia activist Dr Philip Nitschke. Speaking at the annual conference of right-to-die societies in Zurich, he complained that half of the world federation’s board were critical of his attempts to create a do-it-yourself suicide technology and preferred to trudge along the slow path of legislative change. He denounced them as “as luddites in the face of scientifically-driven technological innovation”.

In any case, he says, the regulation of suicide is unreasonable. “Why would a seriously ill adult of sound mind subject themself under assisted suicide legislation to the rigors of medical and psychiatric assessment just to ensure their passing was peaceful?” He and his supporters are working hard to ensure that “any rational adult (over a certain age), can peacefully and reliably end their life themselves at a time of their choosing”.

Currently he is working on three projects. The first is Nembutal imported from China. The challenge here is to ensure that the powdered form is pure. Dr Nitschke’s group, Exit International, is developing “mobile testing” so that people who want to kill themselves are sure that it is at least 95% pure. “People who have their own product… will have little or no interest in legislative reform,” he says.

Second, is suffocation by breathing nitrogen in a plastic bag. Exit is also working on a cardiac monitor which will send a text as soon as the person is dead. “This will alleviate the worry by some elderly folk that they may not be found for days or weeks after death.” Finally, for paralysed people, he is working on a “deliverance machine” which will deliver a lethal injection with an eye movement”.

Dr Nitschke declared that ideally a doctor should not be a party to assisted suicide. “Why should it be the doctor who is made to feel like the executioner?” he asked, somewhat plaintively. “I am no murderer and my involvement in the right to die movement did not mean my own ethical and moral boundaries somehow didn’t matter anymore.” 

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet. He lives in Sydney, Australia.