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Friday
Oct082010

Doctor Death at Our Door

By Guest Blogger, Elisabeth Fallon, CFPL Intern

A highly controversial but captivating spokesperson for euthanasia and assisted suicide, Dr. Philip Nitschke has been at the centre of contentious end-of-life choice debates and has provoked international resistance not only in his native Australia, but in New Zealand, the UK, US and Canada. Defending that he offers the terminally ill and elderly the choice to “die with dignity,” his organization “Exit International” more accurately commodifies death under the guise of selling freedom of choice.

On October 7 , 2010, the pro-euthanasia doctor, colloquially titled “Dr. Death,” began his Canadian “Safe Exit” tour, hosting a workshop in Vancouver. His workshops provide information about how to commit suicide with  “ease and comfort,” and, most controversially, how to access the drugs and materials necessary for the task. Nitschke is scheduled to conduct another workshop in Toronto on October 13 before travelling to the United States to continue his tour.

Nitschke’s entrepreneurial promotion of euthanasia and assisted suicide presents a macabre business model, marketing books about the most effective suicide methods and promoting the latest drugs and death technologies. Arguably his most controversial book, the Peaceful Pill electronic handbook was censored in New Zealand by the New Zealand Office of Film and Literature Classification in 2007 because it provided explicit instructions on drug manufacturing and other criminal acts. Access to the e-book is blocked in Australia, which Nitschke coyly circumvents by offering internet “hacking” master classes to provide access to the material regardless. But, the book seems mild in comparison with the Do-it-Yourself euthanasia “Betty Bag” kits available on his website and through his workshops, complete with an instructional video, and “the necessary items to ensure an elective, reliable and peaceful death.” The kit could be DIY black satire if it was not actually sold and used. The Globe and Mail reports, seven Canadians purchased the “death kits” at a workshop in Vancouver during Dr. Death’s 2009 tour, and two of those people committed suicide. 

Nitschke’s presence is met with justifiable questioning by many groups in Canada. According to section 241 of the Criminal Code, it is illegal to counsel, aid or abet a person in committing suicide. That is the only subject matter of the workshops. Both the Vancouver and Toronto Public Libraries barred the workshops, but Nitschke moved the presentations to private locations. He made an identical move last fall, when the Vancouver Public Library cancelled his workshop because of the anticipated legal ramifications. Nitschke simply proceeded at a different venue, unhindered and uncharged.

The Television Bureau of Canada has restricted Nitschke’s business endeavours somewhat by refusing to air advertising promoting voluntary euthanasia in conjunction with  his workshops. The advertisement in question focuses on the importance of freedom of choice while dramatising that the government withholds the mercy of legalized assisted suicide.

Hugh Scher, legal counsel for the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, expressed that the advertisement blatantly contradicts the restrictions in place under the Criminal Code. As Scher told CBC News, the advertisement promotes “a series of workshops aimed at assisting people or counselling people on how to break the law in this country.”

Nitschke attempts to evade euthanasia and assisted suicide laws by arguing that his instructional workshops merely provide information about euthanasia, comparing his enterprise to the Quebec Select Committee on Dying with Dignity public hearings. The committee was established upon the defeat of bill C-384, Right to Die with Dignity, in the House of Commons in April, however, contrary to the goals of the committee which is exploring the contested values and definitions of dignity, individual autonomy, compassion and respect for the sanctity of life, Nitschke discusses no alternative to ending one’s life, and only provides services to aid in assisted suicide.

Nitschke need not do more to gain attention. Between his passionate fervour for assisted suicide and his rather chilling marketing, he has the euthanasia supporters hankering after him with their dollars and death wishes, and the anti-euthanasia community seeking enforcement of the laws that should restrict him from conducting his workshops ... and going viral on the internet within Canada’s borders.

The only  commentary Nitschke withholds is actual dialogue about end-of-life care – whether the palliative medical care or hospice care that have been clearly shown to meet the physical suffering of the terminally ill and elderly or the emotional and spiritual care available from chaplains and end-of-life counsellors –  and conversation about overall compassion and respect for human life.

Dr. Death was at the door, but he has crossed the threshold and entered upon Canadian soil to peddle his non-compassionate remedy to life with dignity.

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