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. Thus far two of his five meetings have been cancelled whilst protesters outnumbered attendees at a third.
His workshop 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 luggage.
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.
Typically, 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.
His ‘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’.
Philip 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 available.