By Michael Cook
A euthanasia clinic has been set up by Australia’s leading euthanasia activist, Dr Philip Nitschke, in Adelaide. Police are keeping a close watch on activities there, but Dr Nitschke, who is used to working at the very edge of the law, is said to be doing nothing clearly illegal.
The clinic, a small renovated cottage in the suburb of Gilberton, has information about options for assisted suicide and facilities for video-conferencing with people in Australia and overseas who want to know how to kill themselves without legal risk to loved ones. The cottage was purchased with bequests and gifts from Dr Nitschke’s admirers.
The law bans helping people commit suicide, but not advising them. So Dr Nitschke explains how to use the lethal sedative Nembutal, how to obtain it, and how to test its purity. He also has canisters of nitrogen bearing the name of his company, Mad Dog Brewing, which can be used to organise death by asphyxiation. The gas is conventionally used for making home brew but Dr Nitschke’s clients are unconventional. “The motto of the company is dispense or dispose … if you see what I mean,” he told the ABC. Police in Queensland and New South Wales are questioning Dr Nitschke over occasions in which the canisters have been found next to corpses.
He also has a mobile consulting unit packed with equipment so that he can inform people who cannot visit the clinic of their “options”. He stresses that the gear is used only for information.
Even if assisted suicide is legalised in South Australia, Dr Nitschke does not intend to use the clinic as a thanatorium. “People prefer to die in their own homes,” he says.
The clinic is controversial in Adelaide. “Let’s bell the cat right from the start: Australia, like much of the Western world, has an ageing population,” says Paul Russell, of Hope Australia.
“We must recognise the prospect of euthanasia becoming law in this country could effectively be aiding and abetting elder abuse by relatives. It’s not hard to imagine that a relative who has been systematically abusing an elder could see euthanasia as the final – and most profitable – card to play for personal gain. It’s not hard to imagine someone who has been emotionally abused over time succumbing to the suggestion they ‘do the right thing’ once their frailty and ailments reach a certain point.”
Editor’s note. This appeared at bioedge.org.