Update 040: Volume 21, Number 1 (2007)

Switzerland: An appointment with death

Switzerland—the country renowned for its spectacular alpine landscapes, precision timepieces, cuckoo clocks, and creamy chocolate—now has the far more dubious distinction of being the world’s new suicide mecca. Thanks to a liberal law which allows assisted suicide and a new ruling by the country’s highest court, suicidal people from across the globe can travel there for a planned, assisted death.

Federal court ruling

The case involved a 53-year-old man diagnosed with the mental condition called bipolar affective disorder. The man, a member of Dignitas, petitioned the court to allow him to get a lethal dose of sodium pentobarbital without a doctor’s prescription. While the court denied his request—stating that the prescription requirement would assure that a medical assessment had been performed—the court also held that people with serious mental illnesses have the same right to assisted suicide as those diagnosed with physical conditions, as long as they have the “capacity of discernment.” [Minelli, Communique of Dignitas, 2/1/07; hereafter cited as Communique.]

“It must be recognized,” the court ruled, “that an incurable, permanent, serious mental disorder can cause similar suffering as a physical [disorder], making life appear unbearable to the patient in the long term.” “[I]f the death wish is based on an autonomous decision which takes all circumstances into account, then a mentally ill person can be prescribed sodium pentobarbital and thereby assisted in suicide.”

The court went on to say that “[a] distinction has to be made between a death wish which is an expression of a curable, psychiatric disorder and which requires treatment, and [a death wish] which is based on a person of sound judgment’s own well-considered and permanent decision, which must be respected.” [AP, 2/2/07]

Dr. Arthur Caplan, chairman of the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Medical Ethics, called the policy put forth by the court a “very dangerous shift in thinking about assisted suicide.” He said doctors would be put in the untenable position “of trying to distinguish ‘competent’ requests from persons with mental illness alleging emotional despair from ‘incompetent’ or ‘temporarily desperate’ persons with mental illness alleging emotional despair—something psychiatry and psychology are not always adept at doing.”

“This policy opens the door to anyone who says they have unbearable psychological or emotional suffering to request help in dying….” [Caplan, blog.bioethics.net, 2/2/07]

“No one should be surprised by the Swiss ruling,” explained International Task Force lawyer Wesley J. Smith. “The evidence demonstrates that ‘death with dignity’ leads inevitably to ‘death on demand.’” [First Things Online, 2/8/07]

Minelli, of course, was overjoyed with the ruling. In his view, the court’s opinion not only established assisted suicide as a right under the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) that can be extended to the mentally ill, but it also confirmed that there can be no “special rules” barring people from other countries from using Dignitas’ suicide services because the ECHR prohibits discrimination. Eventually, he said, other countries—especially Germany, Great Britiain, and France—will legalize the practice. [Communique, 2/1/07]

Dignitas: A one-way ticket to Zurich

Of the two major Swiss right-to-die groups, EXIT and Dignitas, only the latter offers its death-inducing service to foreigners. From 1998, the year it was founded, until the end of 2006, Dignitas claims to have assisted the deaths of 675 people, mostly foreigners—a fact that has caused many in Switzerland to blame Dignitas for what’s been termed “suicide tourism.” Of the foreigners helped to die, most were from Germany and the U.K. [Minelli, Right-to-Die Email List Service, 1/13/07]

Euthanasia advocates in Britain, Scotland, and Australia have used the Dignitas-assisted deaths of their fellow citizens to draw media attention to what they spin as a serious need to legalize assisted suicide in their respective countries. “Publicly traveling with a terminally-ill person to the Dignitas flat certainly helps any campaign to change the law as it draws attention to the stress on that determined dying individual of having to travel abroad,” wrote Michael Irwin, a retired British doctor who was removed from the country’s medical register in 2005 for procuring drugs for a friend’s death. Irwin, a former president of the World Federation of Right-to-Die Societies, founded the British group The Last Choice, which “assists and escorts terminally ill Britons to Switzerland.” [Irwin, Right-to-Die Email List Service, 8/10/06] He is also on the council of the Dignitas-linked Scottish group FATE (Friends at the End). [FATE website]

Irwin has been associated with many of the nearly 60 British subjects who went to Zurich to die—most notably Anne Turner, a 66-year-old British doctor, and Elisabeth Rivers-Bulkeley, a 82-year-old socialite and women’s rights activist from Scotland. Both women died in 2006, and, with Irwin’s help, were the subject of wide media attention, mostly favorable to the “right-to-die” agenda. Irwin openly admitted that he gave both women “advice and encouragement.” In the Rivers-Bulkeley case, he counseled her by telephone, as did retired Scottish physician Libby Wilson, a member of FATE who served as liaison between Rivers-Bulkeley and Dignitas. [Medical.net News, 1/29/06; The Guardian (London), 2/9/07; The Scotsman, 2/11/07]

Irwin’s success in garnering media coverage to advance euthanasia/assisted-suicide legalization was not unnoticed by Australian activist Dr. Philip Nitschke. Nitschke—referred to by close associates as a “media tart” because of how adept he is at playing the press—went into high gear after he was contacted by 79-year-old John Elliot, a Sydney doctor with multiple myeloma, and his wife Angelika, both of whom had no prior connection to the right-to-die movement. With Nitschke’s input, the couple decided to go to Zurich so John could “die with dignity” in a sparsely furnished, residential apartment rented by Dignitas. The Elliots paid for Nitschke and his personal and professional partner, Dr. Fiona Stewart, to accompany them on the long trek to Switzerland. [Sydney Morning Herald, 1/26/07; The Age, 1/27/07] To get the biggest headlines back home, Nitschke invited selected members of the press to go along. The subsequent coverage was huge, and, once again, mostly favorable to the “right-to-die” movement.

According to news accounts, both Scotland’s Rivers-Bulkeley and Australia’s Elliot wanted their Dignitas deaths to highlight the need to legalize assisted suicide in their respective countries. But that wasn’t the sole, or even primary, reason behind their suicides. Wilson, who helped plan Rivers-Bulkeley’s demise, admitted that the socialite wanted to “end her life before she felt she was becoming a nuisance to everybody.” [The Scotsman, 2/11/07]

Elliot’s fear of being a burden was even more evident. When asked if his wife’s quality of life since caring for him influenced his decision to die, he responded tearfully, “Oh, a helluva lot.” “If she has to take care of me for another six months or a year, she will kill herself.” In another news account, his wife confirmed her frustration over being his caregiver. “We can’t go to a movie, or for a drive,” she said. “All the everyday nice things have gone. All I do is fill out prescriptions for a nurse. It is death, illness, drugs and suicide. My friends say, ’Come over.’ I say, ‘I can’t.’ It’s a nightmare. I just want to have a normal life again.” [Sydney Morning Herald,1/26/07; The Age, 1/27/07]

Dignitas criticized

Recent criticism of Dignitas and its director, Ludwig Minelli, casts doubts on just how dignified its services are. One London paper quoted the son of a British client, who, upon his return from Zurich, likened the Dignitas’ apartment where his mother died to a “backstreet abortion place with graffiti-covered walls.” [Daily Mail, 1/26/07]

Other concerns center on Dignitas’ operation and its hasty death process. In an exclusive Sydney Morning Herald report, Soraya Wernli, a 40-year-old nurse who worked at Dignitas for three years, discussed her alarm over the way Minelli does business. “I could not accept what he was doing,” she explained. “He was not interested in their [clients’] diagnosis, just their money.” Minelli charges foreigners €3,500 ($4,600 U.S.) for the suicide service.

She revealed that many clients would be seen by a doctor in the morning to confirm that they were ill and of sound mind. “And by 4 pm they would be dead,” she said. “It was against my morality. In that time, how can you be sure they really wanted to die?” Wernli also objected to the fact that not all clients had terminal or intolerable conditions as is claimed on the Dignitas website. Some, she said, were depressed while others were just old and wanted to die. Wernli left Dignitas two years ago, ending a 30-year friendship she and her husband, a former director for Dignitas, had with Minelli. [Sydney Morning Herald, 2/3/07]

Swiss issue meaningless “guidelines”

In a not so veiled attempt to rein in Minelli and his organization, the Swiss National Advisory Commission on Biomedical Ethics (NEK-CNE) issued guidelines last November for “the practice of organized assisted suicide.” The commission held that any group rendering suicide assistance “should be subjected to state supervision” and should follow a “set of minimal duty-of-care criteria” to protect clients. Included in those criteria are the requirements that clients have an “enduring and consistent” wish to die and that organizations have “repeated personal contacts and intensive discussions” with the client. Furthermore, “[a]n assessment [of the client’s death wish] cannot be made on the basis of a single meeting or correspondence.”

It would be a mistake, however, to view these criteria as restrictive. They do not have the force of law, and, as the commission itself states, the criteria “make no claim to definitiveness. Rather it should be possible for them to be discussed and if necessary revised in the light of practical experience.” [NEK-CNE. “Duty-of-Care Criteria for the Management of Assisted Suicide,” 11/06]

New round of assisted-suicide bills introduced

The stage is set for yet another round of battles in targeted state legislatures over bills to legalize physician-assisted suicide (PAS).

If assisted-suicide advocates are anything, they are persistent—particularly in states where they feel their chances of passing assisted-suicide bills are more favorable. Those states are Arizona, California, Hawaii, and Vermont.

Despite the fact that all their past PAS bills have been rejected multiple times in those states, advocates wasted no time introducing their new or recycled measures in January for each state’s 2007 legislative session.


Rep. Linda Lopez, a Democrat from Tucson, has introduced two PAS bills. The first, HB 2572, is virtually identical to Oregon’s assisted-suicide law.

The second, HB 2357, would put patients in charge of controlling their own pain and suffering—even to the point of causing their own deaths—by executing a new advance health care directive called “Advance Directive for Control of Suffering.” The bill is actually a “model bill” drafted in 2003 by the former National Hemlock Society (now Compassion & Choices) in order to gain unwitting support for assisted suicide.

Lopez has unsuccessfully sponsored similar versions of both bills dating back a number of years.


Democratic Assembly members Patty Berg and Lloyd Levine have upped the ante in their latest bid to legalize assisted suicide in California. After two unsuccessful attempts to advance Oregon-style PAS bills in 2005 and 2006, they have managed to gain the support of influential Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez, who has signed on as a co-author of the new bill, AB 374. Titled the “California Compassionate Choices Act,” the new bill is identical to last year’s defeated AB 651.

As part of a ploy to purge AB 374 of any association with the term “assisted suicide”—polling showed less support if that term is used—the bill would require all state agencies to refer to assisted suicide as “aid-in-dying.” As Nuñez told the press, the bill is not about suicide. Rather, it’s about “how people are going to live the last days of their lives.” [Press Conference, 2/15/07] But the tactic appears to have had little effect on reporters. All the major TV and print news reports still refer to AB 374 as either a “suicide” or “assisted suicide” bill. (More about California)


Of all the targeted states, Hawaii had the most PAS bills introduced. Three—HB 675, SB 800, and SB 1995—are virtual clones of Oregon’s PAS law. Of those, only HB 675 has been heard in committee. After a four-hour hearing on February 7, House Health Committee members voted 6-1 to defer the bill to next year, the second in Hawaii’s two-year legislative session. Health Committee Chairman Josh Green, an emergency room physician, said that 300 written testimonies were submitted, 10-1 against the bill. The oral testimony presented was also overwhelmingly opposed to the measure. The committee’s decision to defer HB 675 essentially kills the other two PAS bills for this year as well. [Honolulu Star Bulletin, 2/8/07]

Two other bills, SB 765 and SB 1104, would have changed the state’s manslaughter law to exempt medical caregivers from prosecution if their patients die while receiving palliative care, even if caregivers recklessly cause patients’ deaths. The Senate Health Committee heard SB 765 on February 13 and voted 3–0 to defer the bill until a better palliative care measure is written. (More about Hawaii )


Vermont PAS advocates have initiated an invigorated campaign to legalize assisted suicide. In January, they introduced two identical Oregon-style bills, H 44 in the House and S 63 in the Senate. H 44 is being fast tracked in the House Human Services Committee.

Over the past four years, attempts to pass similar bills were rejected in committees, thanks in large part to the broad-based opposition coalition Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare (VAEH). The group intends to continue educating lawmakers regarding the dangers of PAS, and mount “a large grassroots voice to be heard by everyone.”

But, Vermont PAS advocates have major financial support from national right-to-die groups and, this time around, have hired several lobbyists to bolster their push for legalization. They have aired costly TV ads and organized letter writing campaigns designed to pressure state legislators to pass their bills. [VAEH Newsletter, no. 41, 2/07] (More about Vermont )

Proper end-of-life opioid use does not hasten death

A study of 725 patients in 13 U.S. hospice programs found that the proper use of opioids (narcotics, such as morphine) does not appear to hasten death in patients with advanced illnesses. “Undertreatment of pain is a far more pressing concern than is the risk of hastened death in those with advanced disease,” researchers found, “and physicians should be encouraged to use opioids effectively to relieve suffering at the end of life.” [R.K. Portenoy et al., “Opioids Use and Survival at the End of Life: A Survey of a Hospice Population,” Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, pp. 539, 12/6/06]

The study undermines the often used claims by right-to-die advocates that euthanasia and assisted suicide should be legalized because those induced death practices are no different than what happens when pain is aggressively treated and death is hastened. According to the study’s lead author, Dr. Russell K. Portenoy, “Opioid drugs can be used aggressively at the end of life to relieve pain and suffering, and this use should not be constrained by inappropriate fear of serious consequences like earlier death.” [Reuters Health, 1/26/07]

Oregon’s health care rationing plan for
poor and uninsured in trouble

Oregon’s controversial health care rationing plan is in serious financial trouble. The plan is unique among state Medicaid programs because it rations medical treatment for poor and low-income uninsured Oregonians by ranking services according to priority. Treatments ranked above a cut-off line are covered; those beneath the cut-off are not. The line is set every two years based largely on budgetary constraints. In 1994, the list of possible treatments numbered 1 to 745, with the cutoff line at 606. In 2004, only 730 treatments were listed, with the cutoff line at 546. [OR Health Services Commission, “Report to Governor & Legislature,” 3/05] Today, the plan lists fewer services (710), covers fewer people (enrollment is down 75%), and the state’s uninsured rate has jumped to 17%. [Health Affairs, 12/19/06]

The situation puts the poor and uninsured in the dangerous position of not being able to pay for needed and costly care in a state where the inexpensive treatment called physician-assisted suicide (ranked 262 on the list under “comfort care”) is readily available. It may be the only “treatment” some people can afford. (More about Oregon)

Assisted suicide is SUICIDE
(no matter how they try to fool people)

by Rita L. Marker & Wesley J. Smith

Postmodernism is infecting almost all areas of American life. In this view, facts and accurate definitions are not what matter. Rather, the narrative is what is important. Thus, if proper definitions and accurate language impede the desired progression of story and policy, they can just be discarded and new terms invented to help point the way.

This deconstruction of language is now infecting medical and health care ethics and policies. Case in point: In order to further the legitimization of assisted suicide, the American Public Health Association (APHA) embraced the political advocacy of assisted-suicide supporters in November 2006 when it decided that “physician-assisted suicide”—an accurate and descriptive term—should be replaced with the euphemistic advocacy phrase, “aid-in-dying.” At its annual meeting, the organization approved an interim policy that

[u]rges health educators, policy-makers, journalists and health care providers to recognize that the choice of a mentally competent, terminally ill person to choose to self-administer medications to bring about a peaceful death is not “suicide,” nor is the prescribing of such medication by a physician “assisted suicide.” Urges terms such as “aid-in-dying” or “patient-directed dying” be used to describe such a choice. [APHA, LB-06-02 End-of-Life Choices Interim Policy]

This policy will become permanent if confirmed by the APHA’s governing council in November 2007.

The stakes in this semantics game are very high. At issue—and indeed, the whole point of this postmodernist exercise—is whether activists will be able to convince other states to join Oregon in redefining the crime of assisted suicide into a legitimate “medical treatment.” And, if that happens, funding of assisted suicide would soon follow, just as it has in Oregon where the act of facilitating suicide is now deemed a state-funded form of “comfort care.”

In one sense, the opening of this new front in the assisted-suicide debate reveals that the movement, thought to be unstoppable when Oregon passed the nation’s first assisted-suicide law, understands that it has failed to convince America that suicide should be part of medicine’s armamentarium. Indeed, in the more than ten years since the passage of the Oregon law, state after state has considered legalizing assisted suicide. Each time, there was early support for the measure. Yet, in every instance, when the official vote was taken, support had evaporated and the proposal went down in defeat. This left assisted-suicide proponents, particularly Compassion & Choices (C&C) (formerly the Hemlock Society) which spearheaded most of these legislative proposals, searching for a way around the logjam.

So, C&C, which enjoys a seven-figure annual budget, commissioned research and polling. They found that people have a negative impression of the term “assisted suicide” but, if euphemistic slogans like “death with dignity” or “end of life choices” were used to describe the same action, response was relatively positive. Likewise, poll respondents were more apt to approve letting doctors “end a patient’s life” than they were to giving doctors the right to “assist the patient to commit suicide.” According to one polling firm, the apparent conflict was a “consequence of mentioning, or not mentioning, the word ‘suicide.’”

As a result, assisted-suicide advocates concluded that the accurate word “suicide” had to go. They embarked on a crusade to erase and replace it with kinder, gentler language that masked the harsh reality of what was being discussed.

Their line of attack included three target groups: the media, the state of Oregon and major public policy organizations. If those groups could be persuaded to adopt new language, they believed barriers would fall.

Accordingly, they issued press releases claiming that use of the term “assisted suicide” demonstrated insensitivity to dying patients and to the physicians who assisted them. In one C&C press release, Dr. Peter Goodwin, who has presided over a number of assisted-suicide deaths, said, “As a physician, I resent the term ‘physician-assisted suicide.’ I never felt I was assisting a suicidal patient, but rather aiding a patient with his or her end of life choice.”

Thus far, however, the press has, for the most part, not jumped on the name-change bandwagon. For example, the Associated Press bureau chief in Portland, Oregon, said, “We have thought about it and we feel ‘suicide’ describes the act of taking one’s life, so we’ll stick with it— for the time being.” (Emphasis added.) Likewise, the Register-Guard (Eugene, Oregon) will continue to use the terms “doctor- or physician-assisted suicide,” since they have chosen “to err on the side of plain English.”

The government of Oregon, however, was another story. The Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) is the entity charged with compiling annual assisted-suicide statistics and, since those statistics are inevitably part of every debate and discussion wherever a new assisted-suicide measure is being considered, C&C had to do away with the offending “s-word” in the reports. To accomplish this, C&C first sent a formal request to the state agency, suggesting that the terms “aid-in-dying,” “directed dying” or “assisted dying” be used in official state reports. Then, the group upped the ante when it brought lawyers to a meeting with DHS to discuss the language substitution and implied that, if this were not done, litigation might follow.

Rather than risk a legal wrangle (or, perhaps, out of sympathy for the cause), the state acquiesced. On October 16, 2006, state officials announced that, in the future, any physician-assisted suicide in Oregon would be listed as “physician-assisted death.” However, this label was changed after a number of Oregonians objected to its ambiguity, since it could mean plumping the pillow, wiping the brow, providing ice chips, murmuring a kind word, or giving an intentional lethal drug overdose.

The state agency finally settled on the phrase it would use instead of physician-assisted suicide. In all future official communication, the state of Oregon will refer to patients who die from physician-assisted suicide as “persons who use the Oregon Death with Dignity Act.”

Assisted-suicide activists were ecstatic. According to Kathryn Tucker, C&C’s director of legal affairs, “This will be a sea change because how you speak of things strongly influences how you think of them.”

The victory with the state was equaled when the APHA announced that it would embrace the misleading language. With over 50,000 members from over 50 occupations in the public health field, APHA has a long arm. According to its web site, “APHA has been influencing policies and setting priorities in public health for over 125 years.” And it will give the media the excuse they need to shift from precise and accurate descriptive language to

the words of pure political advocacy. Clearly, the APHA’s adoption of a policy intended to mask the reality of suicide and legitimize its facilitation by dressing it up in soft and tender terms is thinly veiled support for passage of laws permitting physician-assisted suicide.

This is a departure from 1999 when then U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher declared, “Suicide is a serious public health problem,” and urged implementation of a comprehensive national strategy for suicide prevention. At the time, he urged suicide prevention for all, and did not exclude those who had been diagnosed (or misdiagnosed) with a terminal illness. But Satcher, himself has now caught assisted-suicide fever. In 2006, he wrote a letter supporting a California bill that was identical to Oregon’s law. (The California bill failed.) In his letter, he referred to assisted suicide in Oregon as “legal aid in dying in Oregon.”

Apparently, in public health and assisted-suicide advocacy ranks, suicide is only a problem if it is called “suicide.”

Okay, so let’s see how this works.

Take a patient who has been diagnosed with a terminal condition. If that patient asks her doctor for sleeping pills so she can sleep comfortably at night, and if the doctor prescribes them, but she takes all of the pills at once and dies, her death is called “suicide.”

But, if that same patient asks her doctor for sleeping pills so she can die, and if the doctor prescribes them for that purpose, and she takes all of the pills as directed and dies, her death is not called “physician-assisted suicide.”

Assisted-suicide advocates say that’s accurate. But it is really political correctness. They know that all social engineering is preceded by verbal engineering. And by bringing postmodernism to health care public policy, they hope to drive their agenda to victory.

Rita L. Marker is an attorney and the executive director of the International Task Force on Euthanasia & Assisted Suicide.

Wesley J. Smith is an attorney for the International Task Force on Euthanasia & Assisted Suicide, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, and a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture.

Editor’s note: Readers are encouraged to send their views to APHA regarding its interim policy, “LB-06-02 End-of-Life Choices,” which uses euphemistic terms for “physician-assisted suicide.” Contact:

American Public Health Association
Governing Council
800 I Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 777-2742
FAX (202) 777-2534
TTY (202) 777-2500
e-mail: comments@apha.org

Dutch court allows suicide aid by non-physician

A Dutch court has ruled that a “suicide counselor” was within the boundaries of Dutch law when he told a 54-year-old woman the amount of drugs to take for a certain death. Under Dutch law, only doctors are allowed to assist the suicides of their patients.

The counselor, Ton Vink—a 53-year-old philosopher who works with the Horizon Foundation, an organization which helps suicidal people—had communicated several times with the woman by means of letters and phone conversations. When she wrote to tell him the precise drugs she planned to take and the amounts, Vink wrote back saying that the doses were higher than what is generally recommended on suicide websites, but that the larger quantity would “increase your sense of security.”

The prosecution in the case argued that the information Vink provided was not general in nature. Rather, it constituted concrete instructions for that particular woman who wanted a swift and certain death.

The court did not agree. It ruled that the woman took the drugs in higher doses on her own and that Vink had not actively directed her suicide. His actions, the court said, were within the allowable boundaries for helping a suicide, and he should be given the benefit of the doubt. In the Netherlands, permissible actions regarding suicide include talking, disseminating information, and providing moral support to the suicidal person.

Criticism of the court ruling centers on the fact that it has further loosened the law as it applies to assisted suicide by allowing people other than physicians to facilitate the suicides of vulnerable people.

Theo Boer, a professor of ethics at the Protestant Theological University in Utrecht, said the ruling highlights a loophole in the law that needs to be plugged. “The verdict may in effect mark a further liberalization of the Dutch practice [of assisted suicide],” he said. “The state should have the… obligation to dissuade its citizens from choosing to commit suicide.” [British Medical Journal, 2/3/07] (Information about Euthanasia in Holland)

Fear of death linked to doctors’ hastening deaths of ill and disabled newborns

A study, published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, has found that pediatric specialists who fear their own deaths are more likely to hasten the deaths of newborns “who seem destined to have severe mental and/or physical disability” or “when further treatment is considered futile.”

The data, obtained from an anonymous survey of 78 neonatologists in Australia and New Zealand, revealed that the specialists “seem to support the moral notion that it is sometimes ‘better to kill than let die,’” even though it is unlawful to do so. One in three (32%) indicated sometimes using “analgesia-sedation” to hasten death. Those doctors with a greater personal “fear of the dying process and a greater fear of premature death,” the study found, “are more likely to accept hastening an infant’s death… whereas those with a greater fear of being destroyed are less likely to condone such an action.” [Barr, “Relationship of neonatologists’ end-of-life decisions to their personal fear of death,” Archives of Disease in Childhood, 2/5/07]

In an accompanying editorial, British neonatology expert Martin Ward Platt wrote, the study “shows us that in relation to neonatal death and dying, doctors’ fear, or lack of it, matters. It matters because it can influence clinical judgments.” [Archives of Disease in Childhood, 2/5/07]

Euthanasia bill introduced in Australia

A private members bill that would legalize active euthanasia has been introduced in the Australian Parliament by Greens Party leader Senator Bob Brown.

Titled “Rights of the Terminally Ill Bill 2007,” the measure is similar to one passed in the Northern Territory over ten years ago and overturned by the Federal Parliament five months after it took effect.

Brown’s new bill would legalize euthanasia only in Australia’s external territories, such as Norfolk Island, Christmas Island, and Australian Antarctic Territory. It would not apply in the Australian Capitol Territory or the Northern Territory.

The bill is not expected to pass. Another of Brown’s right-to-die motions was voted down last year. [The Age,1/30/07; AAP,2/8/07 ]

Australia bans Nitschke’s how-to suicide book

The Australian federal government has banned the suicide manual The Peaceful Pill Handbook written by euthanasia advocate Dr. Philip Nitschke and his partner Dr. Fiona Stewart. [ABC, 2/25/07]

The book describes a broad array of death inducing methods using poisons, lethal gases, plastic bags, barbiturates, etc. But, what the government found most objectionable were the sections telling people how to break the law. The authors instruct

readers, in precise detail, how to make your own pentobarbital (which is banned in Australia for human use). If that is too difficult and the legal risk too great, readers are told they can travel to Mexico to buy veterinary-grade pentobarbital and smuggle it in past Australian customs. [D. Humphry, Assisted-Suicide Blog, 2/14/07] For those who illegally assist a suicide, the book details how to clean up afterwards and remove the evidence. [The Australian,12/22/06] (More about Nitschke)

News notes . . .

After serving more than eight years of his 10- to 25-year sentence in a Michigan prison, America’s Dr. Death, Jack Kevorkian, will be paroled this year. The earliest he can be released is June 1, 2007. Kevorkian has acknowledged assisting the deaths of approximately 137 people. But, what got him convicted of murder was a video tape showing him giving a lethal injection to ALS patient Thomas Youk in September 1998. Kevorkian subsequently sent the tape to Mike Wallace to be aired on CBS’ 60 Minutes. Reportedly, Kevorkian has promised not to assist or actively bring about any more deaths if released. [Detroit Free Press, 2/1/07] (More about Kevorkian)

Ireland is being persistent in its pursuit of U.S. assisted-suicide advocate Rev. George Exoo for the January 2002 death of Rosemary Toole Gilhooley in Dublin. Exoo—a Unitarian minister who runs an assisted-suicide group called Compassionate Chaplaincy in Beckley, West Virginia—has admitted being present when Gilhooley died, but denied assisting her suicide. He reportedly said he’ll kill himself if he has to stand trial in Ireland where assisted suicide is illegal. Irish authorities have sent the U.S. Justice Department an “extradition reminder” in hopes of speeding up Exoo’s apprehension. [Irish Times, 2/3/07] (More about Exoo)