Home' Scoop : Scoop 68 Winter Edition Contents WINTER 2014 89
he question is a simple one – do we
have the right to take our own lives?
If I am in pain and suffering or
simply tired of life, who has more
right than me to say no?
The debate is endlessly fascinating, calling
into question core beliefs and contradictions
most of us would prefer not to think about. So
when we found out that Philip Nitschke was
in town as a contender in the recent senate
elections, we immediately invited him to the
office to hear more about his work assisting
Australians with their right to die.
[Incidentally, his bid for a senate seat in
WA was not successful, but after nominating
for senate he received numerous invitations for
coffee with political heavyweights who had never
previously returned his many calls.]
The surprising reality is that legally we
do have the right to die. In WA and all other
states, suicide is legal. Although in hindsight
it makes sense, it is difficult to imagine an
effective deterrent for someone threatening
to kill themselves.
Conversely, WA has some of the toughest
penalties in Australia for anyone ‘assisting’
suicide. It is one of Nitschke’s motivating factors
and a key point he makes to the hundreds of
attendees at his seminars in WA. If you care for
your loved ones, take responsibility for your own
death, and don’t put those left behind at risk.
He is also motivated by method, and
giving those in need a dignified end to their
lives. Without assistance they are left to
their own limited means, including hanging,
cutting wrists, overdosing and asphyxiation.
Apart from too often being unsuccessful, it
is a horrible and humiliating end for them
and their loved ones to deal with.
So Nitschke’s point is this: if suicide is not
illegal, then why not give those of sound mind
and reasonable motivation the tools with which
to end their lives with dignity? And that is what
he has done. Through his website you can find
reliable sources of powdered Nembutal (often
from China) which, when mixed with water and
consumed, will put you to sleep and end your
life. The site even provides testing facilities in
South Australia to confirm the powder you have
received is genuine.
Nitschke says it also brings great comfort
to the living and, paradoxically, improves the
quality and length of life for the terminally ill.
Patients in great pain can relax knowing that if
and when things get too much, they have an exit
strategy that is proven, effectively risk-free and
won’t burden those closest to them.
And in many ways it avoids the rigorous
checks and balances, the legal and medical
interviews required by any proposed legislation
which, in Nitschke’s view, are the last things
someone wants to think about when considering
taking their own life.
So in many ways, he has achieved his main
objectives. But not all... A major source of
stress for the elderly is the fear of dementia,
and becoming mentally incapacitated and an
emotional and financial burden for their family.
Philip believes this fear pushes many to take their
own lives before they are ready because they fear
losing the capacity to do it at a later time. And,
with the resulting risk of a murder charge, very
few are prepared to leave it to their families.
The only solution is a living will, a document
which states that once a point of incapacity
and inability to communicate is reached, the
individual is to be euthanised.
It is to this end Nitschke continues to fight.
The arguments for euthanasia are clear,
explaining why the vast majority of Australians
are in favour. The arguments against are varied,
ranging from entrenched religious beliefs to
valid concerns of misuse.
Traditionally, many cultures have allowed
for the sick and elderly to take their own lives
in their own way and in their own time – long
walks in the snow and such. But contemporary
religion takes a dim view, and ‘religious beliefs’
mire the debate at the highest level. It is also
a tough issue for politics. The political right is
the most vocal opponent to change. While the
majority of Australians support euthanasia,
it probably won’t change their vote. Those in
opposition tend to be vehement and vocal, and
for them, it is a vote-changer.
Then we have society’s entrenched view,
strongly backed by the Australian Medical
Association (AMA), of life at all cost. While
society as a whole has no issue with euthanasing
an animal in pain, we are prepared to tolerate
endless suffering of loved ones in order to extend
the lives of the terminally ill for days, months and
sometimes even years. But as with the religious
argument and all ‘absolute views’, there is no
answer to the ‘life at all cost’ point of view and
sadly, too often, this is where the argument ends.
There is the question of abuse – what if
the legislation is used by friends and family to
coherce ‘loved ones’ into taking their own lives?
Given the checks and balances proposed and
lack of evidence from other countries where
legislation is working, this seems a moot point.
However, there are valid concerns regarding
youth and the mentally ill, taking their lives in
a temporary fit of depression. The counter-
point is that legislation requiring medical and
legal checks would have a greater chance of
leading them to the counselling they need, and
prevent suicide being the biggest killer of young
men and women in Australia, as it is today.
This is a difficult topic, especially for those
who have lost loved ones through suicide, and
the easy option is simply to say ‘no’. But it seems
cruel and bizarre to live in a society where we
refuse people the right to end a life of pain, to
have a dignified death and to avoid being
a burden to their loved ones. I certainly want that
option for myself when the time comes and see
no reason to not to afford the same comfort to
others, especially our most treasured elderly. S
For more on Philip Nitschke, visit
“The surprising reality is that legally we do
have the right to die. In WA and all other
states, suicide is legal. Conversely, WA has
some of the toughest penalties in Australia for
anyone ‘assisting’ suicide.”
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