The roll out of Exit International and Dr Philip Nitschke’s latest project, the provision of kits that include a nitrogen cylinder to bring about death by suffocation, should ring alarm bells with the Australian public and regulatory authorities. His comments in the Herald Sun and Dennis Shanahan’s article in The Australian last Friday, leave a great deal unsaid. There are many questions in need of answers.
In the public interest, he needs to come clean on some pressing questions to do with public safety and the rule of law.
How does the provision of such kits by mail order deal with the physical, emotional and mental state of the individual user? Does Dr Nitschke conduct a consultation with every applicant? Does he know them personally, or is this simply the logical extension of his belief that all adults should have the right to kill themselves at any age and for any reason at all -- so it doesn’t matter?
Given this factor of relative anonymity – that anyone could order a kit - how does Nitschke plan to ensure that these devices have not been ordered by troubled teenagers or by a relative intending to use the device on an unsuspecting loved one? In the hands of someone with a sinister intent this is a rolled-gold way of getting rid of elderly relatives.
Nitschke makes a great deal of the fact that hypoxic death by using nitrogen is ‘undetectable’. At the risk of stating the obvious, finding someone dead with a bag over their head and a nitrogen bottle next to them is really a bit of a giveaway.
Is he advocating that someone else be present at or soon after the death to remove the incriminating device? Has he accounted for the possibility, given the fact that suicide is still an excluded event in many life insurance policies, that his device and advice might assist remotely in the possibility of insurance fraud? Is he advising customers that being present at or soon after such a death and removing evidence might render that person in breach of the law?
Advertising the fact that death can come from a nitrogen bottle must surely have bottled gas suppliers across the country nervously checking their order books to see if they’ve been inadvertently supplying gas for this macabre and unusual use. It’s hard to imagine that Nitschke would jeopardise this access to nitrogen by going public, as he has done, if the suppliers were Australian-based.
The observation in The Australian that he may be importing these devices from China through a sham company called Max Dog Brewing plus Nitschke’s stated intention of ‘shipping the cylinders to countries such as New Zealand, the US, Canada and the UK’ only add to the concern. ‘Devices designed or customised to be used by a person to commit suicide, or to be used by a person to assist another person to commit suicide’ are prohibited imports and exports under Australia’s Customs laws.
So just where are the nitrogen cylinders coming from and does this comply with Australian customs regulations and customs laws in the relevant countries?
Nitschke’s Exit newsletters have said that there would be distribution points in every Australian state. Is Exit’s workforce aware that their involvement could place them in a difficult legal situation?
I’m sure that Nitschke’s on the money with his marketing of an ‘undetectable’ death. It’s understandable that some people will not want their relatives to know that they had killed themselves. But this does raise questions about how such a death could leave no evidence of the means unless someone else is encouraged to be present at or soon after the death (to remove the device). In marketing the ‘undetectable’ nature of this type of death Nitschke must surely be aware that, in saying so, there is a foreseeable reality that the system could result in breaches of the law.
It’s a dangerous game flirting with the laws on assisting in a suicide as he conceded himself at a recent debate in Adelaide. This raises yet another question: is all this ‘undetectable’ talk simply about some privacy concerns for the individual user, or is it also about trying to make sure that his involvement through the sale and supply chain remains undetectable too?
Euthanasia and assisted suicide advocacy is not at question here; everyone’s entitled to their own view. But public safety is everyone’s business and Dr Nitschke needs to provide answers in the public interest.
This post has been republished, with permission from Hope, a national network working against euthanasia and assisted suicide.