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Peaceful Pill Blog

March 7, 2017

Why Euthanasia is a Feminist Issue

For many years now I’ve mulled on the idea that euthanasia – a good death – is a feminist issue.

In some ways I came to the cause of end of life choices through feminism.

Indeed, my very first letter to the editor when I was 20 was about abortion rights. I was upset that conservative commentator Greg Sheridan of The Australian newspaper was so anti-choice and so willing to tell the women of Australia what they should / should not do with their bodies.

Sheridan’s paternalism was insufferable. The patriarchy that gave him a right to put his regressive and repressive thoughts in print was unjust.

It is an irony perhaps that this guy set me on a path for a career in opinion editorial writing (I would later become a regular contributor to Murdoch’s Australian until in the early 2000s the paper took an even sharper turn to the right and I was dissed as collateral damage).

But back to International Womens’ Day 2017 and why euthanasia is a feminist issue.

To say that something is a feminist issue is to argue that it affects half the world’s population in different and unique ways. And often those ways are inequitable, unfair and downright wrong. More often than not those ways demand something special in recognition and action.

So why is Euthanasia a Feminist Issue?

My dot point list goes like this (and it is a work in progress):

Women are caregivers – this means they are more likely to be the ones close to, and intricately involved in the care of, ageing or ill parents or spouses. And if that loved one decides to exit early, it is almost inevitable that the woman will be implicated in the decision-making.

The decision of a loved one to end their suffering – from illness or old age – will likely mean that the wife, daughter, mother or sister will be involved. Should the death not go according to plan, should the law become involved, it is the woman can be the one left holding the legal can. She is the one who could be prosecuted for assisting.

Protecting women (and men) from the law in the event of an ‘assisted’ suicide makes euthanasia a feminist issue.

Women live longer than men – as the ones left behind, it is women who will likely find themselves without their spouse. It is women who will find themselves living out their old age in a way never envisaged. Perhaps in a state or grief and loneliness for which there is no cure.

And it will be women who are faced with having to make their own end of life decisions unsupported by the person who was closest to them for all those years.

This is why euthanasia is a feminist issue.

Women have long had to exert control – over their bodies and their lives – historically in the face of a hostile medical profession. Self-determination makes the act of planning for one’s own death just one more decision in a life-time of decision-making against societal forces that often think they know best.

Control over one’s life and death is fundamental. A woman’s body is a historical battleground for society: not only in terms of reproduction but in terms of what makes a woman a lady. What makes a woman respectable and valued in the eyes of society. How femininity is valued and rewarded (or not, as the case is also often).

Control over when and how one dies is a feminist issue.

Can it be said that women are more likely to be organised than men when it comes to the logistics of life planning. This claim is contentious. However what I have seen in my 15 years at Exit is that the women who come to our meetings (often on their own or with friends) are organised. Sometimes they are hyper-organised.

These women often have come to Exit through the second wave women’s movement of the 1970s. They know activism. Many have needed to battle before. The sentiment of ‘get your rosaries off my ovaries’ tells of a willingness to oust state control from the personal sphere.

This is why euthanasia is a feminist issue.

And so on this International Womens’ Day 2017 on 8 March, those of us who operate this website and who make the publication of the Peaceful Pill Handbook series possible are pronouncing our feminism loud and proud.

The website and the forums will remain open (there is no backup staff for us to do otherwise).

We welcome discussion of this blog in the forums.

Happy International Womens Day to you all.

Dr Fiona Stewart

January 23, 2017

Only in America

The US is nothing if not a country full of real surprises. One has to look no further than at this week’s inauguration to have that confirmed.

But of relevance to those wanting access the choice of a peaceful death, and in particular those in the US States that have now passed legislation granting permission for the dying to access lethal drugs, is this.

The Canadian manufacturer of the barbiturate drug, Seconal, has decided to hike the price. And, not just a little, but by a massive 200%!

As far back as April 2016, the Seattle Times reported that Valeant Pharmaceuticals International of Quebec had raised the price of a 10gm dose of the drug from its original price of ~$150 to a staggering $3000!

Why not shop elsewhere I hear you say?

The equivalent (or even preferred) barbiturate, Nembutal, the drug universally used in Europe for an assisted suicide, is not (legally) available in North America. This is because of its role in US executions.

There can be no justification for this sudden price rise other than corporate greed. The only explanation is that the company realized its marketing edge – with the passage of assisted suicide laws in California, Colorado and Canada – and decided to go in for a killing – so to speak!

And while Valeant has been getting rich,  it was quickly becoming clear that some in the US will miss the cut. Not because they aren’t sick enough to qualify (even if they could convince a panel of doctors that they are of sound mind), but simply because they are just too poor: too poor to die.

So the call has gone out for a cheap, peaceful, lethal alternative.

The result is the proposed mixture of three common (and cheap) drugs

  • The 1900’s sedative Chloral Hydrate
  • Morphine
  • The slow-acting Barbiturate, Phenobarb (which is still used as an anti-convulsant)

There is little doubt that this combination will work and work well.

It will be a little slower than the hitherto unaffordable Seconal (or unavailable Nembutal). But it will be reliable.

Those who have taken the combination have certainly died.

Although reports suggest that it does leave a literal bad taste in the mouth. Not just from the thought of having been forced to use a drug(s) that is second best, but because of the very real burning taste that comes with drinking the significant amount of chloral hydrate.

This is why in mid-2016 a new non-burning cheap drug mixture was developed.

This new mixture comprised four drugs:

  • Morphine (again)
  • Valium &
  • The cardio-toxic combination of Digoxin and the B Blocker Propanolol.

Total cost of the new combo ~$500: a bit more afordable than the $3000 a pop Seconal. And very much on a price par with illegal Nembutal, as it is purchased over the Net.

The new combo, known as DDMP, is now used widely in the US.

Valeant may have, metaphorically, cut their own throat.

To regain market share they will have to slash their price.

A script price of closer to the $100 it actually costs to manufacture the drug would be a good step (after all Valeant, did not invent the barbiturates: that was down to Alfred Baeyer back in 1864).

But for those who want absolute control, with none of the restrictive legislative entanglement of the new US and Canadian laws, the appeal of having $500 / 25gm of pure Nembutal powder in the cupboard, just in case, remains strong, although illegal (we have to add that bit).

However, with a shelf life better than 30 years, some say the choice is a no-brainer.

The issue will be explored in greater detail in the next Update to The Peaceful Pill eHandbook.

For more information see:

Seattle Times

Kaiser Health News

Philip Nitschke

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January 9, 2017

Harm Minimization & Drug Testing

The January 2017 Update to The Peaceful Pill eHandbook identifies a commercial laboratory that will test your Nembutal.

Free preview at: The Peaceful Pill eHandbook

The decision to die is the most serious and profound decision any of us will ever make.

At Exit we believe that the decision to die at a time and place of our choosing is a fundamental human and civil right.

A good death – euthanasia  – is not a privilege to be bestowed only on the very sick by the medical profession.

Rather, it is something that should be within the reach – if desired – of every rational adult.

Putting an end of life plan in place allows an individual to organize their death.

While there is a range of ways that a peaceful, reliable death can be achieved, for many the role of the barbiturates is top among the possibilities.

Pentobarbital powder from China or liquid from South America each provide a peaceful, reliable death. But only if they are not adulterated.

The testing of barbiturate powder will give its owner peace of mind when and if the time arises for its use.

More than this, verification that the powder purchased as Nembutal is indeed Nembutal is the responsible thing to do. This will benefit those who might be with the person when they ‘exit’, and others who might find the person in the morning.

The right to a peaceful and reliable death brings with it responsibility.

Drug-testing to ensures that one’s Nembutal is the real thing, is a strategy of harm minimization.

Harm minimization has emerged in modern medicine as a guiding principle.

This is because testing addresses the risk of failure and the possibility of a nasty surprise which a failed attempt ultimately brings.

Positive test results should bring peace of mind to all concerned.

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November 17, 2016

Global Law Reform: 2 Steps Forward, 1 Step Back

There is little doubt that voluntary euthanasia/ ‘medical aid in dying’ law reform is on the move!

The recent success of Colorado’s Proposition 106 is the good news story in this regard.

You can read more about this new End of Life Choices law here.

Following on Colorado’s heels is Washington DC’s Council passing their ‘Death with Dignity’ bill this week.

That bill is now at the Mayor’s desk awaiting signature into law.

Both the Colorado Act and Washington Bill are incredibly restrictive.

Both allow assistance only for the terminally ill, with less than six months to live.

The entire process is doctor controlled and mediated. This the ‘medical model’ of assisted dying writ large.

The third place to move on Voluntary Euthanasia/ Assisted Dying is the small Australian state of South Australia.

However the news is less good from here. Disastrous in fact.

The bill was introduced by Liberal MP Duncan McFetridge. With a tied vote of 23 votes for and against the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Michael Atkinson, voted against the bill. The fat lady has sung.

This is the 15th time a Voluntary Euthanasia bill has been defeated in this tiny state’s Parliament.

Exit Member, Max Bromson, was instrumental in bringing the issue back to public debate in South Australia.

Max died in July 2014 after illegally importing Nembutal from China.

Max was 66 years old and suffering from bone cancer.

Max Bromson & Philip Nitschke

Max Bromson & Philip Nitschke at Adelaide Central Markets, July 2014

The next Australian state to address the issue will be Victoria in early December 2016.

Watch this space for updates.

Fiona Stewart

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