Euthanasia is illegal in Australia and the maximum penalty in Victoria for assisting someone to suicide is five years jail but in other jurisdictions, it's life imprisonment.
The illegal drug Nembutal is being imported into Australia very easily. Known as the Peaceful Pill, Nembutal is promoted by Dr Philip Nitschke's Exit International as the best and most peaceful way to end your life.
I am an advocate of euthanasia and support Dr Nitschke's efforts to help people with a terminal illness to end their suffering but after seeing him on ABC 7.30 show last night, I'm having second thoughts.
I could be wrong, but he came across as a man who couldn't be bothered having to check every euthanasia candidate's reason for wanting to die and his decision not to refer them on to a psychiatrist or other mental health professional is a real concern.
He gave the impression that it's not really his business to find out why they want to do it, his job is just to help them do it. It seems the doctor has moved away from the original intention - to help those suffering from a terminal illness - to those who can convince him they are suffering extreme mental stress.
A 45 year old man from Perth, Nigel Brayley, died in May this year after taking Nembutal. Emails reveal that Mr Brayley didn't have a terminal illness, but said he was suffering mentally.
Dr Nitschke said "If a 45 year old comes to a rational decision to end his life, researches it in the way he does, meticulously, and decides that now is the time I wish to end my life, they should be supported" he said. "We had a lot of communication with Nigel, he'd been in touch with us for a while, he'd joined the organization and when I went over to Perth, he came along to the workshop and I had a talk to him."
"If a person comes along and says he's made a rational decision to end his life in two weeks, I don't say 'have you made a rational decision? Do you think you better think about it? Why don't you go off and have a counsellor come and talk to you?'
"We don't do that, if a person is so depressed they have lost capacity, then they can't articulate anything, the fact that he was so insightful in his decision to make this choice indicates to me that he was indeed a person who had not lost capacity."
"I'm not saying he wasn't depressed but was he so depressed that we should constrain him? Should we have certified him, should we have put him into a psychiatric institution, should we have restricted him in some way?"
Beyond Blue Chairman Jeff Kennett said that Mr Brayley was not a euthanasia candidate. "I was appalled, my concept of euthanasia does not extend to helping and giving advice to a 45 year old guy who clearly did not have a terminal illness" he said. "I think Dr Nitschke expressed himself - that he didn't see it as his responsibility to do that - to be absolutely abhorrent."
But for Dr Nitschke, it gets worse. A 25 year old man, Joe Waterman took his own life this year. Like Mr Brayley, he didn't have a terminal illness and illegally imported Nembutal. His mother Mary said her son had ordered the doctor's handbook and wrote about being depressed on his iPad. "I was angry, quite angry that the book was so easy for him to access" she said. Her son had lied on the application form and ticked the box which said he was over 50 years of age.
Police are currently investigating the deaths of two Melbourne housemates, Val Seeger 75, a retired health professional and Clair Parsons 66, a renowned medical anthropology academic, who died in a suicide pact in March. Ms Parsons who was healthy, agreed to carry out her friend's wish to die after she was diagnosed with dementia. She knew she would risk criminal charges if she helped her friend and left a note.
Ms Parsons wrote
‘‘Under the current (and we believe outdated) law in this land, the police are obliged to charge me with aiding and abetting a suicide and I am not prepared to undergo the harassment and disgrace of a prosecution, this leaves me no choice but to join my friend at her time of death."
Dr Nitschke is hated by the medical profession and attempts to strip him of his registration are ongoing but his euthanasia workshops are booked solid. Public opinion about the right for an individual to end their life peacefully, continues to be a contentious issue.