LIFE ISSUES by Paul RussellNews Weekly
At last, we wake up to the truth about Dr Death
, July 19, 2014
Dr Philip Nitschke and his pro-euthanasia group Exit International have been widely condemned in the aftermath of the suicides of two psychologically troubled men, Nigel Brayley, 45, of Perth, and Joe Waterman, 25, of Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula.
ABC television’s 7:30 Report of July 3 reported: “Dr Nitschke is being accused of moving into uncharted territory by agreeing to assist Mr Brayley despite knowing he was not terminally ill.”
The program reported on the second suicide as follows: “Joe Waterman was 25 when he took his own life in January this year…. His mother Mary Waterman has since discovered that her son, who had ordered Dr Nitschke’s euthanasia handbook, wrote about being depressed on his iPad.”
Spokesman for two of Australia’s premier suicide prevention organisations and the country’s peak medical body, the Australian Medical Association (AMA), have strongly criticised Dr Nitschke.
The West Australian newspaper ran a story quoting an AMA Western Australian spokesperson saying that he (Nitschke) “is a disgrace to their profession and could undo years of work by suicide prevention groups”.
The report also quoted AMA WA president Michael Gannon as declaring that “the ‘poster boy for assisted suicide’ had gone too far”.
Dr Gannon said: “Doctors have varied views on euthanasia but this is a significant deviation from the usual debate, and a horrible message to send about how doctors think. I think we have worked out what this guy (Dr Nitschke) stands for, and it’s a perverse existentialist view that everyone should be able to take their life if they hit a dark time.”
Former ABC sports broadcaster Glenn Mitchell, who three years ago considered committing suicide while suffering depression, said he was appalled by Dr Nitschke’s behaviour.
“I find it staggering he did not recognise that the vast majority of mental illnesses, with correct help, can have incredibly good outcomes,” Mr Mitchell said.
“For a doctor to find ending your life as the best option is beyond belief.
“From my own experience, you need help from properly trained people and you need to know it’s not something you have to bear alone” (West Australian, July 5, 2014).
Melbourne Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt, a long-time critic of Dr Nitschke, recently wrote: “Nitschke has alarmed me since 1996, when the Northern Territory briefly allowed euthanasia.
“He was the doctor of seven people who formally applied to kill themselves, and the publicity then suggested all were in agony or weeks from death.
“For example, the first to die, Martha Alfonso-Bowes, announced she had bowel cancer and ‘there is no hope for me now’.
“In fact, Nitschke later co-wrote an article in The Lancet revealing Alfonso actually knew with surgery her ‘prognosis was good’. She had no pain.
“Nitschke never revealed this to journalists when appearing alongside Alfonso-Bowes to argue for the NT laws. Nor had he revealed factors that might better explain her suicide: she was a 68-year-old divorcee whose daughter died young, and who was now estranged from her much-loved son.
“I should add Nitschke denies giving Alfonso-Bowes her suicide pills, and claims he tried to talk her out of death.
“But it wasn’t just her. None of Nitschke’s seven ‘patients’ had severe pain, and a co-author of his piece in The Lancet concluded some just needed better care.”
But now, according to Bolt: “Euthanasia guru Dr Philip Nitschke is furious the ABC has finally pinged him for actually helping the healthy to kill themselves.”
On July 3, Dr Nitschke tweeted: “Today I’m behind Lisbon’s Moorish battlements. Good place when attacked by rabid Christians & journalist jackals!”
Bolt remarked: “But you don’t need to be rabid or even Christian to consider Nitschke dangerous.”
Ever the critical thinker, Bolt pinpointed why it has taken so long for the Australian public to begin to see Nitschke and Exit as a dangerous, public nuisance:
“For 20 years Nitschke, founder of Exit International, has had largely positive coverage from a media which too often assumed he’s just helping the dying and the suffering” (Herald Sun, July 7, 2014).
Therein lies the real problem. Exit International has not been about dying and suffering, in the classical and common understanding. In fact, very little of Exit’s work actually relates directly to euthanasia (saving the occasional proclamation of support for legislation). It’s all about suicide.
The Australian public seems to go along with the clandestine work of Exit and others because it is somehow seen as being compassionate towards the dying. This tolerant view could be summed up as follows: “Of course, suicide should be prevented — except, perhaps, you know, when you’re really ill or dying, or maybe when you’re very old, or maybe when disability makes your life really difficult.”
But once we permit these implicit exceptions, we also blur the boundary between prevention and non-prevention.
Acts of euthanasia only compound this problem. The person wants to die — that is common to both suicide and euthanasia. But what differs is that now we are adding the actions of a medical professional in delivering the fatal dose.
Paul Russell is executive director of the Australian network, HOPE: Preventing Euthanasia & Assisted Suicide www.noeuthanasia.org.au, and vice-chairman of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) International. He blogs at http://blog.noeuthanasia.org.au
Caitlyn Gribbin and Dale Owens, “Euthanasia advocate Philip Nitschke criticised over support for 45-year-old who committed suicide”, ABC television’s 7:30 Report, July 3, 2014.
Cathy O’Leary, “Push to deregister Nitschke”, West Australian, July 5, 2014.
Andrew Bolt, “At last, we wake up to Dr Death, Philip Nitschke”, Herald Sun (Melbourne), July 7, 2014.