It looks as if prominent and obsessively determined euthanasia campaigner Dr Philip Nitschke may be in trouble again. He has already had his right to practise medicine suspended and is facing Medical Board disciplinary proceedings arising from a situation a few months ago where he apparently provided telephone and email advice to a non-terminally ill man, seemingly about suicide options. The man subsequently successfully committed suicide using the so-called “peaceful pill” Nembutal. His relatives later found the correspondence. I will return to this situation later.
The current situation, by contrast, seems morally if not legally straightforward. In August this year Dr Nitschke assisted a 71-year-old man named Martin Burgess to upload the above video onto Nitschke’s YouTube channel. Burgess appealed for someone (anyone) to help him by donating supplies of Nembutal to allow him to kill himself. Burgess was in the latter stages of terminal rectal cancer, was in frequent pain and not being effectively supported by palliative care services, and was pretty clearly not suffering from any mental disability which might have impaired his decision-making process. He made an entirely rational decision to kill himself. He died last week. To be blunt, I would have made exactly the same decision had I been in his situation. See the slightly longer video below where Burgess describes his situation (try to ignore the irritating background noise).