EUTHANASIA: by Paul RussellNews Weekly
Nitschke offers "undetectable" death by suffocation
, September 29, 2012
The roll-out of Exit International and euthanasia campaigner Dr Philip Nitschke’s latest project, the provision of suicide kits that include a cylinder of nitrogen gas to bring about death by suffocation, should ring alarm bells with the Australian public and regulatory authorities.
Dr Nitschke’s comments, reported in Melbourne’s Herald Sun (August 16, 2012) and in Dennis Shanahan’s article in The Australian (August 31, 2012), leave a great deal unsaid and many questions demanding answers.
In the public interest, he needs to come clean on some pressing questions to do with public safety and the rule of law.
How does the provision of such kits by mail order take into account the physical, emotional and mental state of the individual user? Does Nitschke conduct a consultation with every applicant? Does he know them personally, or is this simply the logical extension of his belief that all adults should have the right to kill themselves at any age and for any reason at all, so it doesn’t matter?
Given this factor of the patient’s relative anonymity — that anyone could order a kit — how does Nitschke plan to ensure that these devices have not been ordered by troubled teenagers or by a relative intending to use the device on an unsuspecting loved one? In the hands of someone with a sinister intent, this is a rolled-gold way of getting rid of elderly relatives.
Nitschke makes a great deal of the fact that hypoxic death (i.e., death by deprivation of oxygen) by using nitrogen is “undetectable”. At the risk of stating the obvious, finding someone dead with a bag over their head and a nitrogen bottle next to them is really a bit of a giveaway.
Is he advocating that someone else be present at or soon after the death to remove the incriminating device? Has he accounted for the possibility, given the fact that suicide is still an excluded event in many life insurance policies, that his device and advice might assist remotely, and presumably unintentionally, in the possibility of insurance fraud? Is he taking the precaution of warning customers that being present at or soon after such a death and removing evidence might render that person in breach of the law?
Advertising the fact that death can come from a nitrogen bottle must surely have bottled gas suppliers across the country nervously checking their order books to see if they’ve been inadvertently supplying gas for this macabre and unusual use. It’s hard to imagine that Nitschke would jeopardise this access to nitrogen by going public, as he has done, if the suppliers were Australian-based.
The observation in The Australian that he may be importing these devices from China through a sham company called Max Dog Brewing, plus Nitschke’s stated intention of “shipping the cylinders to countries such as New Zealand, the US, Canada and the UK”, only add to the concern.
Under Australia’s customs laws, “devices designed or customised to be used by a person to commit suicide, or to be used by a person to assist another person to commit suicide” are prohibited imports and exports. So, just where are the nitrogen cylinders coming from? And does this trade comply with customs regulations not only in Australia but also in the supplying countries?
Nitschke’s Exit newsletters have said that there would be distribution points in every Australian state. Is Exit’s workforce aware that their involvement could place them in a difficult legal situation?
I’m sure that Nitschke’s on the money with his marketing of an “undetectable” death. It’s understandable that some people will not want their relatives to know that they had killed themselves. But this does raise questions about how such a death could leave no evidence of the means unless someone else is encouraged to be present at or soon after the death (to remove the device).
In marketing this “undetectable” means of death, Nitschke must surely be aware that, in advertising such a facility, there is a foreseeable likelihood that the availability of his kit could result in breaches of the law.
It’s a dangerous game flouting current laws which prohibit assisting in a suicide, as Nitschke conceded himself at a recent debate in Adelaide.
This raises yet further questions. Is all this talk about offering an “undetectable” means of suicide simply about some privacy concerns for the individual user? Or is it also about trying to make sure that Dr Nitschke’s involvement, through the sale and supply chain, remains undetectable too?
Merely advocating euthanasia and assisted suicide is not at question here. We live in a free country, and everyone’s entitled to their own view.
But public safety is everyone’s business, and Dr Nitschke has so far failed to provide satisfactory answers to people’s legitimate questions about whether his latest suicide kit is in the public interest.
Paul Russell is director of the national network, HOPE: Preventing Euthanasia & Assisted Suicide www.noeuthanasia.org.au and vice-chairman of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition International.