Nitschke unapologetic about collateral damage

Dr Philip Nitschke / NZ HeraldFinally, a key performance indicator for Australian euthanasia activist Dr Philip Nitschke! In Australia, after recent legislation, it is illegal to promote assisted suicide in print or on the internet, so it is hard to measure how successful he has been. However, recent figures from the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine show that 51 people throughout the country have died after taking Nembutal, his drug of choice, in the past 10 years.

Somewhat embarrassingly for Dr Nitschke and his organization, Exit International, six people in their 20s and eight in their 30s had died of Nembutal poisoning. Because this drug is illegal in Australia for human consumption, Dr Nitschke has been encouraging people to smuggle it in from overseas, mostly from Mexico, or to manufacture it themselves. The most pessimistic interpretation of the figures is that 14 young people who were not terminally ill discovered how to obtain lethal doses of the poison from Exit members.

However, the figures, which were generated for The Age newspaper in Melbourne, are difficult to interpret, because only 38 of the 51 cases were thoroughly examined by a coroner. And the total could be higher, as it includes only those which emerged from a search of a national database. Of the 38, only 11 were suffering from a serious physical illness. Of the 51, nearly two-thirds were under 60. Without a more detailed knowledge of the cases, the data strongly implies that most of the people who used Nembutal to kill themselves were either mentally ill or just weary of life.

Typically, Dr Nitschke was unapologetic about possible collateral damage from his campaign for euthanasia for people suffering from terminal illness and loss of autonomy. ''There will be some casualties… but this has to be balanced with the growing pool of older people who feel immense well-being from having access to this information,'' he said. ~ The Age, Feb 15  

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