Choosing a clean break with life is a basic human right

Choosing a clean break with life is a basic human right May 7, 2009

WE at the Freethinker rarely get the opportunity to praise members of the clergy, but today we salute the Rev David Coleman, of the United Reform Church in Brighton, for allowing Dr Philip Nitschke to hold a public discussion on euthanasia  at the church-owned Brighthelm Centre yesterday.
True, Rev Coleman – in the face of strong opposition – drew the line at allowing Nitschke to hold a planned closed workshop, which I wanted to attend, but he did extend a warm welcome to the doctor’s Exit International team, saying that, while he neither approved nor condoned euthanasia, he passionately he believed people’s right to hold a discussion on it.
Nitschke said:

When he asked us not to have one of the closed meetings we said yes. That was because he was experiencing some criticism and pressure. I talked to him on the phone from Australia and he was wonderful. We are very grateful that he is supporting the process of allowing people to voice their opinions on this issue.

The meeting itself was a huge success, with around 80 people in attendance – and the majority were clearly supportive of Nitschke in his quest to provide people with “end of life” choices. The presentation, filled with humour and deep compassion, was an uplifting experience.
One of the funniest parts of a presentation was a short video – DIY with Betty – which had us in stitches. The 50s-styled video shows retired nurse Betty demonstrating how to make a suicide bag, used to induce hypoxia with the aid of a gas such as helium.
Betty suggests that “you might like to get your hair done” before putting the bag over your head and bidding farewell to the world.
That so many have conspired to have the man silenced is an absolute disgrace, and I am particularly incensed that, among the shrillest of his detractors is the British euthanasia organisation, Dignity in Dying, which first called on the Government to have him barred from the UK, then demanded that he be deported.
A spokeswoman for group Dignity in Dying welcomed the cancellation of the Brighton workshop, saying:

It’s a good thing that he has agreed not to do the workshop. Overall we are quite concerned about the workshops. They are irresponsible and dangerous.

There is nothing irresponsible about championing a person’s right to choose a quick, painless and effective exit from life if that’s what he or she wants, and to criminalise anyone who assists in such a suicide – as we do at present – is nothing short of barbaric.
Note: In our report yesterday we carried a picture of Dr Nitschke with what we wrongly described as a “suicide kit”. This was, in fact, a kit used to test the quality of euthanasia drugs such as Nembutal. This has now been corrected.

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  • Norman Lycan

    No one can stop you if you choose the easy exit. What sucks is that if you have been paying life insurance premiums all your life, even if you are diagnosed with a terminal condition, you cannot kill yourself, or your family will not receive the benefits. Insurance companies can force you to die in unspeakable agony in order to collect.
    Yeah, obviously, we need to rethink this issue.

  • Norman, if you opt for the bag-over-the-head, plus gas, option, and if the bag is immediately removed by a friend or family member, no-one will ever know that the cause of death was suicide.

  • ' will ever know that the cause of death was suicide.'
    True enough.
    A post mortem will show asphyxia through anoxia as the primary cause of death. Whoever removes the bag will be the chief suspect in the subsequent murder investigation.

  • roger

    Did you see the Stephen Fry program on finding a human way to execute people? it seems that nitrogen given without oxygen through a face mask is a quick and painless way to go… if you wanted a comedy death you could go for helium instead.

  • Interesting point, Remigius. Is Dr Nitschke therefore wrong in saying that this method is completely undetectable?

  • If the gas used is helium then concentrations will be present in the blood for a time after death. Helium is very rare naturally. Although it is the second most abundant element in the universe it only constitutes 5 parts per million of our atmosphere. There is no natural reason why helium should be present in the body.
    Secondly, such a method would also lead to cerebral hypoxia, cyanosis and the formation of lactic acid in tissue. All of which could be used to establish cause of death.
    I think he is hoping that a verdict of natural causes would be accepted as a cause of death without the need for an autopsy. If the deceased is very elderly or sick and there is no obvious signs of trauma then such a suicide may go unnoticed. However insurance companies usually need to establish the cause before a payout.

  • Wrong comedian. It was Michael Portillo!

  • roger

    oops, right you are… still, did you see that statement at the end by the pro-death guy? we *want* them to feel pain, the nitrogen would be 'too easy' for an execution..

  • Stonyground

    The insurance issue is one that hadn't occured to me. This is surely another reason for the law to be changed. I think that someone has mentioned this before but you would be prosecuted for cruelty if you failed to have a pet put to sleep and allowed it to die in pain.

  • Yeah. My reaction was…'What a vindictive cunt!'

  • Too true. Also we know that insurance companies want to use genetic information as a way of screening potential policy holders.
    What is the betting that they will use attendance at a 'suicide workshop' as a means to preclude payment on a life premium where the actual cause of death is disputed?

  • I don't understand why the "sanctity of life" crew is so insistent on forcing people to endure long, torturous deaths. It's yet another way they prove what sadists they are.

  • Norman Lycan

    barry duke,
    It's true, what the other contributers said, death by suffocation is easily detected in autopsy. Still, the best method for undetected suicide is potassium chloride. Only detectable if they are specifically looking for it, which of course they would be in the case of a terminal patient. Not because a coroner is suspecting foul play, but, because insurance companies pay for the autopsy on all claims. Well worth their investment. Denying just one claim will pay for hundreds of autopsies. You can't win.
    That's why euthanasia needs to be rethought. It needs to be legal.

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