Even euthanasia has its funny side

The world's most famous euthanasia activist is thinking about moving into stand-up comedy.
Michael Cook | 3 March 2011
comment   | print |

Dr Philip Nitschke | Herald Sun 

Jim Carrey. Ricky Gervais. Adam Sandler. Steve Martin. All well-known funny men. Well, move over, guys. Philip Nitschke, the Australian doctor who is the world’s best-known euthanasia activist, is considering a career shift.

Nitschke’s day job could get you down. Take February, for instance. He spent half of it touring the British Isles in the dead of winter, touting suicide on demand. It must have been a wee bit demoralising giving passionate lectures to old dears in chilly local halls. And yesterday police announced that they are investigating whether his suicide drug of choice, Nembutal, was used by two people in Melbourne to kill themselves last week.

But things are going to change. Dr Nitschke has announced that he wants to be a stand-up comedian.

Let me be very clear. I. Am. Not. Making. This. Up. Dr Nitschke, the director of Exit International, a man associated with the suicides of who knows how many people, wants a light touch for his Do-It-Yourself “Safe Exit” workshops.

He told the newspaper Wales on Sunday, “There is a proposal to do some sort of stage stand-up comedy. It will be comedy associated with the issues of death and dying directed more at entertainment, that’s what we are looking at.”

Sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it? But think for a minute. If there’s someone could coax a giggle out of gangrene, surely it’s Phil Nitschke. Here and now, I’m applying to be his joke writer. Here’s a few for him:

“You heard the one about the Australian doctor who says to his patient: ‘How are you going today?’” Ha ha ha ha ha ha. (You’ve got to get the accent right, of course.)

“This bloke asks the librarian, ‘Have you got any copies of Nitschke’s book Killing Me Softly?’ And she says, ‘We did, but they never bring them back.” Ha ha ha ha ha ha.

“I remember one day I’m talking with this lady about how to use my Deliverance Machine and after a while she wants to change the topic, so she says, ‘Well, in a different vein…’ And I say, ‘Oh, so which vein do you want it in?’” Ha ha ha ha ha ha.

“Did you hear the one about the Dutch euthanasia doctor who killed the wrong patient? He was sacked for his grave mistake!” Ha ha ha ha ha ha.

“I have this patient with a split personality and half of him, Norm, is a member of Exit International, and the other half, Bazza, is a pro-lifer and they hate each other. So after one of my workshops, Norms drinks Nembutal and he leaves a suicide note which says, ‘Bazza is going to kill himself when he hears about this.’” Ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Nitschke admires both the low-key irony of Jerry Seinfeld and the absurd slapstick of Barry Humphries, so it’s hard to predict what sort of comedy will emerge. He told Wales on Sunday that he may do his act in drag, like Dame Edna Everage. Names, anyone? Morticia? It might be a bit tough for Phil to mince around in the hobble skirt worn by Morticia Addams, but the name’s about right. 

Joking aside, I do think that Nitschke is on to something. His talent for being, looking and acting ridiculous is simply outstanding. And as the years roll on, his fanatical dedication to helping people die has become so morbid that even other voluntary euthanasia groups avert their eyes in squeamish embarrassment. 

Dying in Dignity, the peak UK group promoting the legalisation of assisted suicide, felt obliged to issue a statement on one of Nitschke’s previous tours disavowing him. "It is irresponsible, and potentially dangerous, to provide information on how to end life without safeguards or control over who accesses the information,” said its CEO, Sarah Wootton.

Last year provided a memorable example of Nitschke’s gift for gaffes, if not for guffaws. He staunchly defended his barely legal promotion of a suicide drug for the elderly and terminally ill. It turned out that nearly two-thirds of the Australians who died after quaffing Nembutal – at least 51 over the previous 10 years -- were under 60, and quite a few were in their 20s and 30s. This suggested that mental illness or depression, not unbearable pain, was the reason for the suicide.

So how did Nitschke respond?

''There will be some casualties,” he said, pretending he was General Haig at the Somme, “but this has to be balanced with the growing pool of older people who feel immense well-being from having access to this information,'' [about suicide drugs].

The notion that Gen Y should be just collateral damage in a war to defend their grandparents’ inalienable right to make a quick getaway makes “Stuff Happens” sound like the Sermon on the Mount. It underscores Nitschke's reputation for being heartless and humourless. If he had a good joke writer, at least he could patch up the humourless bit. 

Sorry, late brainwave! Just thought of a new one for Phil. “Why am I like a Santa Claus for the elderly in my 'Safe Exit' workshops? Because I’m gonna sleigh them in the aisles!”

Ha ha ha ha ha ha. OMG, they’ll kill themselves laughing!

Michael Cook is editor of  MercatorNet. 

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