By Paul Russell, Founder, HOPE Australia
On November 10, hearings began in Darwin, Northern Territory [Australia] into the decision last July of the South Australian division of the Medical Board of Australia to suspend the medical license of Philip Nitschke, director of Exit International. Nitschke had successfully lobbied to have the hearings take place in the jurisdiction where he was registered–namely, the Northern Territory.
Nitschke’s medical practice license was originally temporarily suspended following the death of Perth man, Nigel Brayley, and the revelations contained in the ABC TV report concerning Nitschke’s relationship to Brayley prior to his suicide.
As the Guardian explained: “The board said at the time it took the interim action to ‘keep the public safe while other investigations or processes continue.’ This week’s hearing does not relate to those investigations.”
The hearings concern only the matter of Nitschke’s license to practice. The now twelve complaints to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, including my complaint from 27 months ago, are separate matters.
Nitschke’s defense counsel has attempted to make the issue in the court so-called ‘rational’ suicide. This has been Nitschke’s defensive line since the Brayley matter became public.
Counsel for the Medical Board, Lisa Chapman said that this ‘misses the point’.
From The Guardian:
“One thing on which Mr. Nitschke has remained consistent is that he obtained scant info about Mr. Brayley before Mr. Brayley died,” she said.
She said any attempt by Nitschke to diagnose Brayley posthumously based on information he had since received was leading the tribunal down a path that was not the focus of the hearing.
“Today is not a debate about voluntary euthanasia … or rational suicide. It’s not a debate about the role of the medical profession in regard to voluntary euthanasia or rational suicide,” Chapman said.
“This is a very precisely focused interim hearing in regard to Mr. Nitschke’s conduct regarding Mr. Brayley.”
“That’s why it’s so important. He did nothing.”
Chapman said it was important to understand the level at which Dr Nitschke provided advice to people and the likelihood that his conduct would occur again:
“Namely, failing to respond to that clear intention of suicide by a middle-aged man with no terminal illness, other than saying [in an emailed reply]: ‘I look forward to receiving your final statement’.”
According to The Australian, Ms. Chapman said, “Mr. Nitschke offered nothing but ‘encouragement’ upon learning Mr. Brayley, who did not have a terminal illness, was suicidal.”
In a welcome twist to the story, The Australian reports that the twelve complaints, including one concerning Nitschke’s conduct in respect to Brayley, were referred to the Health Professional Review Tribunal last Friday. AHPRA confirmed this action today in a press release on their website:
Board confirms referral of Dr Nitschke to Tribunal
The Medical Board of Australia has referred Dr Phillip Nitschke to the Northern Territory Health Professional Review Tribunal for a hearing into his professional conduct.
Under the National Law, the Board refers allegations of the most serious unprofessional conduct, or professional misconduct to the Tribunal.
After investigating a number of notifications (complaints), the Board decided to refer Dr Nitschke to the Tribunal on 12 counts, including allegations of professional misconduct and unprofessional conduct.
These allegations have been lodged with the Northern Territory Health Professional Review Tribunal, which will schedule the matter for hearing in due course.
In the meantime, the hearing of Dr Nitschke’s appeal against the Board’s decision to take immediate action to suspend his medical registration – as an interim step to manage risk to the public, pending other inquiries – is continuing this week.
The Board will not comment further at this time, to protect the integrity of the Tribunal processes.
According to The Australian, Nitschke was unaware of AHPRA’s latest action. He claimed, “It seems to me that it was a statement along the lines of, ‘If we don’t get you now then we will get you on this’.”
High rhetoric indeed and a statement best left without comment except to say that, amongst the dozen complaints are at least three cases that involve the loss of a loved one in tragic circumstances. At the very least, we hope this process brings natural justice for grieving relatives.
Counsel for the medical board correctly observed (as noted above) that the trial, ‘is not a debate about voluntary euthanasia … or rational suicide. It’s not a debate about the role of the medical profession in regard to voluntary euthanasia or rational suicide.”
However, as much as the pro-euthanasia movement might want to distance themselves from these events, the broader question is exactly about euthanasia and assisted suicide. It is about protecting vulnerable people from risk and the efficacy of the criminal code in continuing its prohibition on both deliberate killing and assisting in suicide precisely for those reasons.
Uncomfortable as it may be for some, the only consistent approach to suicide prevention is to oppose it and to prevent it in all its forms and for every reason, because once the divide is crossed we notionally cross it for everyone.
Editor’s note. This appeared at noeuthanasia.org.au.