The prospect of opening a suicide clinic in his home town of Adelaide has brought out the hidden human side of euthanasia activist Dr Philip Nitschke. Today’s Australian featured a tender picture of Dr Nitschke holding the hands of his 90-year-old mother Gweneth Nitschke. She is a fan of his project to open up a clinic where people can access information and equipment about how to kill themselves.
"I wholeheartedly agree with the need for a specialist clinic if the laws change. I have seen friends suffer. If I found myself in a terminal situation like that, I would like to be able to choose what I wanted to do. I expect to live to see a clinic open that helps people with the right to choose to die. I hope to see that day, and I hope it comes quickly."
The proportion of medical students in Austria who are sympathetic to voluntary euthanasia has more than tripled in the past ten years. According to researchers at the Medical University of Graz acceptance of active euthanasia increased from 16.3% to 29.1% to 49.5% in the periods from 2001 to 2003/04 to 2008/09. In the general population it rose from about 49% to 62% between 2000 and 2009.
Why the steep rise? The researchers believe that students now respect autonomy of the patient and the beneficence of the doctor more than ethical convictions.
“In this respect, the attitudes of the future physicians seem to draw nearer to the approach prevailing in Dutch euthanasia practice of which van Delden et al report: “… that the request of the patient is not the only basis for the physician's decision … Euthanasia, therefore, is always based on both autonomy and beneficence … In…
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A review of research carried out over 20 years suggests that UK doctors appear to consistently oppose euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide (PAS). The findings -- which appear in the latest issue of the journal Palliative Medicine, -- highlight a gap between doctors' attitudes and those of the UK public.
The study, carried out by Dr Ruaidhrí McCormack and colleagues Dr M Clifford and Dr M Conroy at the Department of Palliative Medicine, Milford Care Centre, Limerick, Eire, searched through literature from 1990 to 2010 and found 16 key studies. These examined UK doctors' attitudes to either assisted voluntary euthanasia (AVE), or PAS, or both. Qualitative and quantitative data were included. The majority of doctors opposed AVE in all of the studies but one.
On the 10th of March, backbencher Steph Key MP introduced a new style of euthanasia and assisted suicide bill not seen before in South Australia. It is much like the draft bill circulated by the Health Minister at the time of the debate on the Parnell bill late last year.
The Criminal Law Consolidation (Medical Defences – End of Life Arrangements) Amendment Bill 2011 inserts an amendment to the crime of homicide creating a defence for medical practitioners and those that assist them (including nurses) to either killing the patient or providing the means for the patient to commit suicide. The ‘defendant’ (either a treating medical practitioner or others as described above) can use this defence, on the balance of probabilities, if:
Helium inhalation promoted by internet suicide and euthanasia sites is becoming a significant factor in Australian suicides. In an article in the Journal of Forensic Sciences reviewing suicide in Australia from 1985 to 2009, researchers report that there were no deaths from helium for the first 15 years. But there were 30 between 2001 and 2005 and another 79 between 2005 and 2009. “Given the availability of helium and the recent promotion of this method of suicide, it is quite possible that this may represent a newly emerging trend in suicide deaths,” they write.
The overall rate of suicide has not changed in Australia or Sweden – it is the leading external cause of death in Australia -- but death by suffocation with helium may be preferable to hanging or other methods, as it is “relatively simple, fast, non-disfiguring, and painless”. It is also very hard to detect.
The UK lobby group Dignity in Dying (formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society) has been very quiet lately but it appears it is now attempting to build momentum for its next attempt to change the law to allow so-called ‘assisted dying’ (a euphemism for euthanasia and assisted suicide).
This will not be an easy task. Three attempts to change the law in Britain over the last six years have been singularly unsuccessful resulting in defeats of 148-100 (Joffe Bill), 194-141 (Falconer amendment) and 85-16 (Macdonald Bill) in 2006, 2009 and 2010 respectively. In fact opposition is building all over the world with euthanasia bills being defeated in Canada, Australia, the US, Israel and France all in the last twelve months.
In the case of the brain-damaged woman Aruna Shanbaug India’s Supreme Court has created an important legal precedent, but it may have failed to clarify some important issues. At the beginning of their judgement, Justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Misra acknowledged that “we feel like a ship in an uncharted sea, seeking some guidance by the light thrown by the legislations and judicial pronouncements of foreign countries”.
The main outcome was two conditions for legal “passive euthanasia”. In this they basically followed the reasoning of the UK House of Lords in the famous 1993 Anthony Bland case (Airedale National Health Service Trust v Bland  AC 789) which allowed doctors to withdraw all life support from a person in a permanent vegetative state, including nutrition and hydration.
Aruna Shanbaug, the brain-damaged woman who has lived in a Mumbai hospital for 38 years, should continue to live, the Supreme Court of India has ruled. Since the hospital staff are effectively her “next of kin”, a request for euthanasia made on Aruna’s behalf by activist Pinki Virani was turned down.
The nurses at King Edward Memorial Hospital had fiercely resisted an attempt by an activist to remove Aruna’s feeding tube so that she can starve to death. The justices praised their dedication in their judgement.
“The whole country must learn the meaning of dedication and sacrifice from the KEM hospital staff. In 38 years Aruna has not developed one bed sore,” the judges said. They praised “their noble spirit and outstanding, exemplary and unprecedented dedication in taking care of Aruna for so many long years. Every Indian…
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Although the passage of euthanasia laws in the Australian states of South Australia and Tasmanis is far from certain, activist Dr Philip Nitschke is already making plans. He wants to set up a euthanasia clinic in Adelaide or Hobart as soon as it is legalised.
"There is a need for a service to provide end of life expertise for those considering using the new legislation. This is a specialist area where few doctors have expertise," Dr Nitschke said on Sunday.
Dr Nitschke is the only doctor in Australia who has actually euthanased people legally – under the Northern Territory’s short-lived right-to-die legislation in the late 90s. He is the founder and director of Exit International, a voluntary euthanasia group based in Darwin.
Careful! is MercatorNet's blog about end-of-life issues. We respect the dignity of each person from the beginning of life to its natural end. Leave your comments at the foot of our articles. The more the better! Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.