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Peaceful Pill Blog

Legalising assisted suicide is a slippery slope says Dr Anthony Latham

Legalising assisted suicide is a slippery slope says Dr Anthony Latham in the Scotsman. Not so fast says Exit! When an opinion piece appears in the right to life press, my tendency is usually to dismiss it. Because it is written for a specific, one-eyed readership, it is to be ...
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The Swiss Option Just Got Harder

The Swiss Option Just Got Harder in what some say is a veiled attempt to stop foreigners having a VAD in Switzerland. This week the Swiss Medical Association (SAMS) tightened its grip over when and how Swiss doctors can provide assisted suicide. While, from a legal point of view, anyone ...
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Cancel Culture gets Uncancelled with Podcast Published

In January 2022 Exit Director Philip Nitschke was contacted by the 'Let's Get Psyched' radio show and podcast series which is hosted by a group of psychiatrists/ psychologists at the University of California, Riverside with an invitation to take part in their program. Let's Get Psyched wrote: 'The hosts at ...
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Marie Fleming & Exit International Ireland

The Backstory of Marie Fleming & Exit International Ireland I first met Marie Flemming in 2011, a few years before she died. Having only recently become acquainted with Tom Curran, Tom had invited us down to his stone cottage in countryside Arklow for an evening meal. At that time Marie ...
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Sarco goes Viral & the Backstory

Sarco goes Viral & the Backstory is a behind-the-scenes look at how the word Switzerland started trending globally on social media because of a story about the Sarco Assisted Suicide Capsule (as it has now become known). NOTE - The February 2022 Update to the Peaceful Pill eHanbook features a ...
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Fudging the Facts in the Azide Wars

This week in Fudging the Facts in the Azide Wars, my old colleague, psychiatrist Boudewijn Chabot wrote a prominent opinion piece in the Dutch newspaper NRC called 'I can't warn enough about Middel X'. Normally, I would welcome an opinion from a fellow activist, but not this week. Chabot's column ...
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Ensuring Northern Territory Rights Bill 2021

The below is the submission of Exit International to the Australian Senate inquiry into the current ban on the Northern Territory making laws on assisted suicide/ voluntary euthanasia, 30 August 2021. Committee Secretary Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee PO Box 6100 Parliament House Canberra ACT 2600 29 August 2021 ...
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The Azide Wars

The Backstory The first shots in The Azide Wars were fired in March 2019 when the Dutch Medical Association Journal NTvG published several articles attacking what was described in the editorial as 'the ideology of suicide”' In a lead article 'The Rise and Fall of Agent X', journalist (and co-author ...
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Suicide Related Materials Offences Act

Exit International has long been the subject of political persecution by multiple governments in Australia. Nowhere is this more obvious than with the Suicide Related Materials Offences Act (Australia) amendment to the Australian Criminal Code. In short, this infamous 2006 Australian law prevents the use of the phone, email, fax ...
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Celebrating 25 Years since the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act

We are celebrating 25 Years since the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1 July 2021, because it was 25 years since the Northern Territory of Australia became the first place in the world to implement a voluntary euthanasia law, the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act. The law was ...
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December 12, 2021

Sarco goes Viral & the Backstory

Sarco goes Viral & the Backstory is a behind-the-scenes look at how the word Switzerland started trending globally on social media because of a story about the Sarco Assisted Suicide Capsule (as it has now become known).

NOTE – The February 2022 Update to the Peaceful Pill eHanbook features a new, revised chapter on the Sarco.

Background

Over the years, SwissInfo have covered a range of Exit stories.

Until this week, their most recent piece about Exit was a profile piece on Exit Director, Tom Curran titled: ‘The Making of a Right-to-Die Campaigner’ (19 Nov 2019).

On 16 August 2021, SwissInfo again made contact with Exit, and conducted a short interview by phone with Philip about the progress of Sarco project.

This interview would not be published until almost four months later on 11 December.

SwissInfo journalist, Clare O’Dea, would later tell Exit that she had no idea about why the interview did not run back in August.  Nor does Exit (of course).

But run the story did last week. Piquing the public imagination.

More than 1.5 million Google hits now appear for the search terms ‘Sarco Switzerland’.

According to Swiss media, the word Switzerland began trending on social media in Russia due to the SwissInfo Sarco story.

Changing Headlines

While the initial headline for the SwissInfo article on Sarco was ‘Sarco Suicide Capsule ‘passes legal review’ in Switzerland’.

This headline would later be changed to ‘hopes to enter Switzerland’. Exit is not aware why the headline was changed or who instigated the change.

The new bit of news in the article, however, was that Exit had, indeed, commissioned a legal review concerning the possible use of Sarco in Switzerland, and the result of the report by Professor Daniel Hurlimann was that, as far as his learned opinion was concerned, there are no legal or regulatory impediments.

This report remains commercial in confidence and will not be made public by Exit.

However, Professor Hurlimann has been prepared to answer media questions about his opinion.

Going Viral

As with a lot things online, the truth can easily get lost.

In this week’s stories on Sarco, the relatively innocent SwissInfo headline of  ‘passes legal review’ morphed into something else entirely.

With hours, the Sarco story was reported as:

  • approved by authorities in Switzerland (Futurism)
  • ‘Dr Death’ campaigner targets 30-second suicide pod at Switzerland (The Times)
  • approved for use in Switzerland (The Hill)
  • Switzerland approves assisted suicide capsule (Daily Beast)
  • Cleared for Use (Gizmodo)
  • Switzerland legalizes Suicide Machine (India Times).
  • Controversial suicide pod to be rolled out in Switzerland (Wales Online)
  • Company offers assisted suicide pod in Switzerland (USA Today)
  • Death Machine gets legal clearance (The Week)
  • Switzerland’s assisted dying capsule machine approved for production (News.com.au)
  • Switzerland Legalises Sarco Pod (Manufactur3D)
  • Switzerland Approves a Device for ‘Quick and Painless’ Assisted Suicide (The Swaddle)
  • Suicide machine death without pain in 1 minute in Switzerland, legal approval for death (News Track Live)

Even the BBC got their headline confused.

An initial article by their tech reporter, Jane Wakefield, stated ‘Maker of Suicide Pod Plans to Sell it in Switzerland’.

This was soon changed to ‘Plans to Launch it in Switzerland’.

If the BBC can get it so wrong, it is surely not surprising that others followed suit.

Of the more serious media, who took the time to listen and ask questions were Euronews and The Washington Post.

The latter headlined their coverage of Sarco as ‘Sarco, a machine for suicide, will soon be tested in Switzerland’ while Euronews wrote: ‘The Sarco suicide pod aims to take assisted dying out of doctors’ hands with AI and 3D printing‘.

The Medical Framing of the Right to Die Debate

The confusion over the status quo of the possible use of Sarco in Switzerland is perhaps best summed up in the email correspondence between a journalist for The World program on American Public Radio and Exit.

The journalist wrote:

‘My editors decided to hold off on this story until I can speak to someone on the Swiss medical review board. Do you have any contact information for the body that authorized the device?
I’m seeing an organization called Swiss Medical Board, though they are shutting down at the end of the month.
I also saw Swiss Medic, though on their website it says that medical devices do not undergo an official authorization procedure, so I’m a bit confused. Can you help point me in the right direction?’

Exit replied:

It is good you are holding off because there appears some fundamental misunderstandings. To clarify:

The point of taking Sarco to Switzerland is the first step in de-medicalising the dying process.

In the Netherlands you may be aware of the ‘tired of life’ debate and the bill currently before the Dutch parliament which aims to provide all elderly people of sound mind the right to ask for assistance to die. Professor David Goodall was a good example of this.

(A demecialised law also allows couples to go together, something not possible under a medical assisted dying law).

This repositions the good death as a universal human right instead of a medical privilege for the very sick.

Swiss law is universal in its construction, in contrast to Californian law for example, as it does not require a person to be terminally ill, or ill at all in order to get an assisted suicide.

Swiss law is based on the Swiss Criminal Code which states that anyone can help someone else to die as long as their motives are altruistic.

Case law has added 2 further requirements that the person must do the action themselves and they must have mental capacity.

The wide-ranging review that Exit commissioned has nothing to do with any Swiss medical board or doctors registration body.

In Swiss law, there is no requirement for doctors to be involved in the dying process.

The review was conducted by Professor Daniel Huerlimann, then of the Research Centre for Information Law at the University of St Gallen.

Funnily enough, one of the questions that was covered in the review was, is Sarco a medical device and, if yes, what type or regulations would it be subject to?

While Exit is not prepared to release the report publicly, the professor is prepared to be interviewed to answer questions.

I’m not sure if you have looked at sarco.design but this may help.

There is a fundamental shift underfoot from the medical aid in dying laws of your country towards the situation in Switzerland (and more recently in Germany and Austria as affirmed in 2020 constitutional court decisions).

There is significant information about the above on the Exit website, if you use the search box.

I hope this helps,

Kind regards

Exit

Confused & Confusing Assumptions

The automatic assumption of the journalist quoted above that the Sarco must have been approved by a medical body of some sort shows how the debate over assisted dying/ assisted suicide has been medicalised to the point where the Swiss legal model of de-medicalised assisted dying is simply unfathomable.

This is a pity because it means that advocates for those who fall outside the strict requirements of medical aid in dying laws in most, but not all countries, must undertake Assisted Dying Law 101 with journalists before discussion can be entered into.

Advocates such as Exit must explain that while there is voluntary euthanasia/ assisted dying for people who are seriously ill (and normally about to die within 6 months from their terminal illness), there are many more elderly people who want to know that they have the choice to go if their quality of life deteriorates (and they are not terminally ill).

Old age is rarely a lot of fun from a physical point of view.

The irreversible nature of the ageing process demands that a ‘good death’ be within reach of everyone who wants it as they reach the latter part of the lifecourse.

In the Netherlands, much less explanation is needed as the so-called ‘completed life’ debate is well advanced and currently before the Dutch parliament.

If the completed life bill is passed, all elderly Dutch people of sound mind will be able to request assistance to die, regardless of their state of health.

Illness will be only one of the criteria allowed by the state for a person to have a good death.

Old age will be the other criteria.

Conclusion

The end of life rights debate is not straight-forward, especially when a new technology such as Sarco is put into the mix of human rights, medical profession dominance, personal autonomy and so on.

This week was not the first time that the Sarco has been reported on.

When it was first unveiled in April 2018 at the Amsterdam Funeral Fair it attracted similar controversy.

No doubt the same will apply when it ultimately comes to be used, although at that time, no media will be present.

To stay abreast of developments about Sarco, please join the free Exit Email List.

Swiss Info is a subsidiary of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation that operates a multi-language online news platform out of Zurich.

October 31, 2021

Fudging the Facts in the Azide Wars

This week in Fudging the Facts in the Azide Wars, my old colleague, psychiatrist Boudewijn Chabot wrote a prominent opinion piece in the Dutch newspaper NRC called ‘I can’t warn enough about Middel X’.

Normally, I would welcome an opinion from a fellow activist, but not this week.

Chabot’s column has sought to rewrite a history: a challenging and important political history that is being played out as we speak, here in Amsterdam.

Let me preface this Blog by saying that, in my opinion, Holland has the most mature right to die debate of any country, anywhere.

In contrast to the comments this week by Australian Education Minister Alan Tudge that my country of birth is the ‘most free, most tolerant and most egalitarian country in all of human history’ (a point of view I beg to differ with – why would Australia then be the only country to ban The Peaceful Pill Handbook?), it is the Netherlands that as a unique ability to take on board and tolerate all manner of points of view on myriad topics.

This tolerance is normally achieved without inviting open warfare in the public domain.

However, in his possible desperation to be relevant to the debate, Boudewijn Chabot has not only fired a salvo over the bow of the group Cooperation Last Will (CLW), he has attempted to sink the organisation outright.

In doing so, he has cut corners, embellished the truth and left the debate and its stakeholders poorer in the process.

Let us examine the facts.

Chabot writes:

Last summer I saw on a video how a couple took the deadly ‘drug X’ and died. They said nothing to each other, did not touch. I heard them groan on the bed, until after an hour it fell silent. This was lonely dying at its best, just as lonely as hanging yourself, only it took much longer.

Correction: the video I showed Boudewijn during the 2021 European summer was that of an Australian couple taking sodium nitrite (not azide) to die together. Chabot knew this. He also knew that the death took 25 minutes, and not more than one hour.

In watching this recording, Chabot and I saw a death that was peaceful and dignified by an elderly couple who wanted to go together.

What’s not to like?

If Chabot is whitewashing the truth on a nitrite death video to suit his own agenda, what else in his column can or should be believed?

Fudging the Facts in the Azide Wars

In his column, Chabot attempts to paint CLW as reckless, dishonest and detrimental to the DIY end of life rights movement.

He makes a big note that he has been ‘in the game’ a lot longer than CLW but this does not give Chabot a monopoly of moving the debate forward or challenging the political establishment.

In The Peaceful Pill eHandbook we state, in summary, about Middel X:

The reliability of a death from ingestion of sodium azide make this salt an effective option. However, questions remain about the time taken to loss of consciousness. The possibility of unpleasant symptoms remains.

The lack of any antidote is seen by many as an important positive factor, especially if there is the prospect of intervention by the emergency services.

Problems associated with its storage, safe disposal, and the risk it poses to others after death may also serve to limit its usefulness.

That said, sodium azide is an important, available substance that provides a lawful, end of life option for those who have no access to the barbiturate, Nembutal.

Sure, CLW may at times have seemed overly enthusiastic about Azide, but for the above reasons they are arguably justified. In the PPeH we rate Azide just below Nitrite and well above that other lethal inorganic salt, Cyanide.

Of course, Middel X is not Nembutal but then CLW never claimed it was.

But it is a reliable, lawful alternative. CLW do not deserve this public vilification for taking an activist approach.

What is it they say? He who does nothing breaks nothing? Listen up Dr Chabot.

Backstory

The Azide Wars first erupted 2 years ago when the journal of the Dutch Medical Association, NTvG, published several articles attacking what was described in the editorial as ‘the ideology of suicide’. This the topic of a former Peaceful Pill Blog.

In the lead article ‘The Rise and Fall of Agent X’, Chabot’s then coauthor of his book Uitweg, Stella Braam, named CLW as ‘enthusiastic amateurs, blinded by their enthusiasm and pressured by their supporters’.

From the totality of the articles published in this infamous March 2019 edition of NTvG, the medical establishment (with whom Chabot is aligned) was revealed as deeply hostile towards any group advocating the right to have non-medical control over one’s death.

So Chabot’s personal conclusion that death will not come quickly in 20-30 percent of Azide cases is neither here nor then because it is the agenda behind this opinion that is driving this partial analysis.

If Chabot’s data analysis were to be accepted (which it is not), this does not make a joke of the claim that Sodium Azide can provide a peaceful death.

The data on the nature a death from Sodium Azide is relatively young. Yes, there is little hard science at the moment but watch this space because as time goes by there will be.

Any alleged sloppiness in the Sodium Azide data is more down to the need for that data to be gathered clandestinely. Being present at a person’s death is still a legal grey area. Utmost caution is required.

That CLW has been able to collate data of the known deaths among their members is something they should be commended for.

But this is not good enough for Boudewijn who, it seems, has assumed the mantel of Azide Expert. ‘I cannot warn enough about drug X as a suicide drug’.

As Chabot’s opinion piece nears its climax, his arguments sound increasingly hysterical.

There is CLW Chairman Jos Van Wijk who is accused of exploiting the 26,000 odd members of CLW at a time when they are ‘in an unstable phase of life’.

Call the elderly membership of CLW many things, but patronise them at your peril!

Van Wijk is also, apparently, guilty of not showing compassion to people who are less strong in life than he is.

While I’m not the first one to say that Jos has a penchant for bluster from time to time (he is an angry Dutch Baby Boomer after all), his approach, in my opinion, has been largely successful.

Unlike NVVE, a group which personifies the Dutch euthanasia establishment, CLW have single-handedly kept the issue of older people’s right to self-determination on the Dutch political agenda.

And then there is Chabot’s grasping of as many sordid examples of unsuitable deaths as he can, including that of Dutch teenager Ximena Knoll.

Ximena suicided using sodium nitrite around the same time that CLW launched their Middel X campaign. While her premature death is indeed tragic, CLW were hardly to blame.

As with other cases of teenage suicide that have made it into the mainstream media, it is the parents who took to the warpath looking for someone/ something to blame: rather than looking closer to home to determine how such a tragedy could have been prevented.

Chabot concludes his column with what can only be described as an attempt of the high moral ground.

In his book, he writes, ‘I was never secretive about the name of lethal substances and I did not withhold any toxicological information. You must be able to base the one-off decision on how to end your life on public and complete data’.

Sorry, did I hear him right?

My good colleague fudges the truth and the single inorganic salt death that he has been able to witness and then tries to argue for disclosure of toxicological information and a need for ‘public and complete data’.

The pot has called the kettle black

But Chabot’s final cudgel concerns the relatively few deaths that CLW have recorded among their members in the five years since their campaign as proof that the membership of CLW has no confidence in its leadership.

Only 30 deaths from a membership of 26,000+

It is on this point that the greatest disservice is done.

If there is one thing that everyone in the right to die movement can agree on it is that everyone wants choice.

Most of us will never use that choice but we will all draw comfort from knowing that we will have control over when and how our days will end.

This is the argument that underwrites all our efforts at Exit.

Being a member of Exit and reading the Peaceful Pill Handbook can make you live a longer and happier life.

Why?

Because you are back in control and you can get on with living. Rather than worrying about how you might die.

Chabot can and does know better.

He should not go unchallenged in this prominent column in one of the Netherland’s most respected broadsheets.

Philip Nitschke

Amsterdam, 31 October 2021

August 30, 2021

Ensuring Northern Territory Rights Bill 2021

The below is the submission of Exit International to the Australian Senate inquiry into the current ban on the Northern Territory making laws on assisted suicide/ voluntary euthanasia, 30 August 2021.

Committee Secretary
Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee
PO Box 6100
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

29 August 2021

Dear Colleagues

Please accept the below as my submission to your Committee in regard to why the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978 should remove Section 50A in its entirety.

As I understand it, the purpose of the ‘Ensuring Northern Territory Rights Bill 2021’ is to ‘reduce the level of Commonwealth interference with laws of the Northern Territory related to acquisition of property on just terms, voluntary assisted dying and powers in relation to the hearing and determining of employment disputes’.

Of the three subjects covered by this bill, my submission concerns Item 2 only: namely the removal of Section 50A of the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978.

Item 2

Repeals Section 50A as inserted by the Euthanasia Laws Act 1997, which prevented the Northern Territory from enacting assisted dying legislation.

The repeal of the whole of section 50A includes subsection 50A(2) which clarifies the scope of the limitation on the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly’s power to make laws relating to euthanasia by confirming the power to make laws in relation to the specific areas set out in that subsection. For the avoidance of doubt, it is noted that the repeal of that subsection does not affect the power of the Legislative Assembly to make laws in relation to those specific areas.

To understand why Section 50A of this Act should be removed, requires a rudimentary understanding of how it came to be in the first place.  The below is based on my first-hand involvement during this tumultuous time in Australian and Northern Territory politics.

The Backstory

On 1 July 1996 the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act (ROTI) became law. Yet the ink on the Act was never allowed to dry because even before it was enacted, Liberal backbencher Kevin Andrews was talking to Prime Minister John Howard about the possibility of introducing a private member’s bill in Federal Parliament to overturn the ROTI Act.

In the months after 1 July, opposition to the Act began emerging from far and wide, but especially from the Catholic Church.

Meanwhile in Darwin, opposition came primarily from within the Territory government’s CLP ranks. After Marshall Perron resigned, handing power to Shane Stone, it was obvious the road was going to be rough.

A practicing catholic, Shane Stone was openly hostile to voluntary euthanasia. However, it was Stone who was now in charge with the ROTI Act’s full implementation.

A close confidant of John Howard, Stone was canny enough to realise that he needed to be seen to support the bill’s implementation. And he was also clever enough to know that he had a range of options by which he could help bring the Act down.

One of these was to allow the Territory’s Department of Health to join forces with AMA then president (who was hostile to the issue), Chris Wake who in turn was supported by such local power brokers as the then Catholic Bishop of Darwin, Ted Collins.

To this end, a letter detailing an obscure legal risk was mailed to all doctors in the Territory. In the letter it was suggested that doctors could face retrospective prosecution if the bill was ever deemed unconstitutional.

Even though the ROTI law was never found to be unconstitutional, the damage done. It would take another three months before enough doctors to broke ranks and the law was able to be used as intended.

Another strategy to bring down the law was the ‘Kevin Andrews Bill’, which became formally known as the Euthanasia Laws Act.

The Kevin Andrews Bill

On 25 March 1997 the ‘Kevin Andrews Bill’, formally known as the ‘Euthanasia Laws Bill’, passed – via a conscience vote – its final stages in the Senate of Australia’s Federal Parliament.

A letter appearing in the Sydney Morning Herald the following day summed things up from a democracy perspective.

I have heard that early this morning, in the Senate, the lights went out.[1]

Two days later, then Governor-General Sir William Dean ratified the bill and the Northern Territory ROTI Act ceased to exist. I was simply devastated.

The way I felt is perhaps best encapsulated in a photo taken by a Fairfax press photographer that shows me standing on the steps of Parliament House, surrounded by the journalists of the press gallery, with burning copies of the ROTI Act and the Northern Territory’s Constitution at my feet.

Ensuring Northern Territory Rights Bill 2021

The burning of the NT Constitution & Rights of the Terminally Ill Act

in the early hours of 24 March 1997

The burning was to me a symbolic act, as I felt the wishes of most Territorians lay in ashes at the feet of our federal politicians.

How could this Destruction of Democracy happen?

The fact that the Federal Parliament was able to override NT legislation through use of Section 122 of the Australian Constitution is only half the story. The other half concerns a wide-reaching network of people, many from within the Lyons Forum and catholic Church-based propagandists.

This network included the former Young Labor president Tony Burke – and now manager of opposition business –and Sydney businessman Jim Dominguez, the ‘Euthanasia No’ campaign was well-funded and effective.[2]

In the words of the late journalist Michael Gordon, the No campaign was a ‘story of a network [where] all the principals are Catholics – its influential connections, its single-mindedness and the tactics it employed’.[3]

The Role of the Media

A second group that ensured the success of the Kevin Andrews – Euthanasia Laws Act was the media, most particularly the Murdoch-owned, Australian newspaper. As a prominent member of the ‘Euthanasia No’ campaign, then editor-in-chief, Paul Kelly, used his position at the paper to promote ‘Euthanasia No’. He was, and is, personally opposed to any kind of voluntary euthanasia legislation.

Kelly’s complicity in the No campaign was revealed to me by The Australian’s then Darwin correspondent, Maria Ceresa. While her Fairfax counterpart, journalist Gay Alcorn, filed stories without editorial interference, Ceresa said she was routinely thwarted by the paper’s hierarchy in her coverage of the issues surrounding the ROTI law.

Ceresa would later tell me that unless the story was highly critical of the legislation, the paper would not run it. She felt herself professionally compromised as a result.

The Australian Right-to-die Movement

The right-to-die movement, too, found itself unwittingly helping to undermine the legislation. I knew something was not right as I travelled from state to state during 1996, trying to involve the VE societies, and trying to get them to mount a coordinated campaign to save the ROTI Act. Their response was patchy.

Although representatives from Queensland, South Australia and the ACT did gather for a strategy meeting in Canberra, there was little willingness to pool resources and mount a national campaign.

In particular from the Victorian society, who did not even attend the meeting. They said they were unwilling to put money into a project that would not directly benefit Victoria. Later I met with the president, Dr Rodney Syme, and the then executive officer, Kay Koetsier, whereupon they expanded on this view.

Syme explained that while the society was prepared to pay for survey work that could benefit Victoria, there would be no involvement in a national campaign to lobby federal politicians. Koetsier went so far as to claim that the passage of the Andrews Bill could even bode well for Victoria.

When I asked Koetsier to elaborate on this point of view, she said that if the Senate voted in favour of the Andrews Bill, there would be a national outcry. Then, the Premier of Victoria, Jeff Kennett, would take it upon himself to ‘do the right thing’ for the people of that State, and pass right-to-die legislation. History now tells us that it took another 20 years for the Victoria Parliament to ‘do the right thing’.

In retrospect, it was little wonder the ‘Euthanasia Yes’ campaign was defeated. However, this only goes to build the argument of how much the current status quo is the result of high politics than representative democracy.

The Vote – who said what & why?

When the Euthanasia Laws Bill was debated in the Senate, the debate lasted the best part of four days. The speeches heard in both houses of parliament were some of the most emotional ever made.

While some MPs spoke about the rights of the individual, others echoed the Catholic Church. A few talked critically of State/Territory versus Commonwealth powers.

The speech of Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese is of note for its eloquence and passion:

‘This debate is hard – real hard,’ Albanese said. ‘It is hard because it is about death.’

He went on:

Most people are uncomfortable talking about dying … [Yet] this debate, as hard as it may be, is important. The outcome of this debate will reflect on our maturity both as a parliament and as a nation for it will determine the manner in which we seek to control each other’s lives.

I oppose this [Andrews] bill because I support human dignity. I oppose this bill because I support freedom of choice. I oppose this bill because I support civil liberties. I oppose this bill because my Christian upbringing taught me that compassion is important. I oppose this bill because modern medical practice should be open and accountable, not covert and dishonest…

I oppose this bill because I oppose the moral posturing of the Lyons Forum. I oppose the hypocrisy of those who say, ‘This debate is so important’ and then vote to debate it upstairs in sideshow alley.

Most importantly, I oppose this bill for one critical reason, and that is this. We have all accepted that this parliamentary debate should be a matter for our conscience.

How arrogant to then suggest that the ability to exercise conscience should be taken from a seriously ill patient who wants to die. There is nothing moral about our exercising a free conscience vote as members of parliament and then voting to deny to others the right to exercise their conscience.

What possible right do Kevin Andrews, Leo McLeay, Lindsay Tanner or Anthony Albanese have to have exercised Bob Dent’s conscience for him? It was his decision and he had a right to do that.[4]

The Territory Rights Argument

Of those who focused on territory rights, it was the Territory’s own Senator Bob Collins who led the way. Although a hostile opponent of the ROTI law, Collins was angry at the vilification of both the Territory and its politicians by Federal Parliamentarians. He was especially critical of Kevin Andrews and Senator Eric Abetz from Tasmania.

He was angry at Andrews for his audacity to think that ‘Territorians have no rights, only obligations’.

Collins was also scathing of Abetz when the latter had tried to argue that ‘the Northern Territory parliament exists only by the grace and favour of the Commonwealth parliament. What the Commonwealth parliament gives, it can also take away’.

‘This’, said Collins, ‘from a senator from a state with about twice the population of the Northern Territory’s, and five times its representation in the House of Representatives and six times its representation here in the Senate’.

Other politicians focused more on their own moment in history. Citing Edmund Burke, Barry Jones stated that he as ‘your representative’, ‘owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion’.[5]

Barry Jones’s mistake was to believe that it was appropriate for politicians to dismiss the ‘opinion’ of their electorates in favour of their own prejudices. Politicians like Barry Jones thought they could do our thinking for us.

Letters to the Editor

The irony of these political machinations is that then, as now, the majority of the Australian population supported a terminally ill person’s right to seek medical help to have a peaceful death.  The overturning of the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act was a deeply unpopular act of democratic bastardry.

Letters to the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald reflected the popular sentiment. It was Greens leader, Bob Brown, who had the foresight to incorporate the many letters into Hansard. But he had opposition even in this small but significant step.

Senate Hansard, Parliament House Australia – 26 March 1997

Senator BROWN (Tasmania) (Midnight) – The letters columns in today’s newspaper started to reflect the feeling of the Australian people about the failure of this parliament to uphold the voluntary euthanasia laws. I do not wish to hold the chamber for long at this point but I have circulated –

Senator Chris Ellison – Why not; you’ve done it all week. You’re a disgrace.

Senator BROWN – The honourable senator … I want to incorporate into Hansard the page of letters in today’s Sydney Morning Herald published under the heading ‘Senate’s night of shame’. I seek leave, having circulated this page, to have it so incorporated.

Leave granted …

Senator Bob BROWN – The letters speak for themselves. They are a consistent barrage of vitriol, disappointment and disgust with the fact that the rights of individuals in this country have been overridden by a majority of people in this parliament not reflecting what the people themselves think…

Senator Kay Patterson – I find that offensive; you are appalling.

Senator Bob BROWN – You may find that offensive, but I find what you did offensive in the extreme. The difference between you, Senator Patterson, and me – through you, Madam President – is that I have not voted to override the right of individuals. If you want to get up to defend your position, you do so, but I stand here on the point I take and I stand defiant of your point of view.

A Sample of Sydney Morning Herald Letters to the Editor

I don’t understand why these evangelists of their own belief systems have the right to take away another individual’s right to end his or her own suffering.

This is the worst kind of politicking, far worse than acting out at Question Time, making errors with expenses or jetting around on fact-finding missions. I don’t care what ‘God’ a politician chooses to follow, but when his belief affects others I consider he has overstepped his already poor standing in the community.

My heart goes out to those who are suffering and those wanting to help them within the law – Letter to the Editor, Sydney Morning Herald, 25 March 1997.[6]

~~

Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. I don’t have to worry about what’s best for me. A very few altruistic-minded wise persons in Canberra tell me what’s best. I feel good. I don’t need God. I have them – Letter to the Editor, Sydney Morning Herald, 25 March 1997.[7]

~~

To all the senators who voted in favour of the Andrews euthanasia bill: you disgust me. You have shown that in Australia, as in the United States, the ‘moral majority’ is on the rise.

You seek to impose your religious and moral beliefs upon the wider community. You missed the point. You can’t stop me gassing myself, or driving my car off a cliff. It’s my life and I will control it, thanks very much.

All you have done is to remove a humane and merciful option. In doing so, you have run rough-shod over public opinion and the rights of the individual. Thanks to your vote, euthanasia will continue to be practised in secrecy every day in every major hospital in Australia.

~~

When society matures further, a euthanasia law will be passed. As with most issues, I doubt that Australia will be in the vanguard of change – Letter to the Editor, Sydney Morning Herald, 25 March 1997.[8]

~~

May I wish Mr Kevin Andrews a long and excruciatingly painful life – Letter to the Editor, Sydney Morning Herald, 25 March 1997.[9]

~~

Australia has just thrown away an opportunity to show the world that we have a compassionate and caring society which allows our terminally ill people the right to choose how and when they will die. To deny this right to anyone in pain and without hope is the ultimate act of obscenity.

The point that these meddling minders have apparently missed is that palliative care does not work for many patients and even when pain can be alleviated there is another equally important aspect to their suffering to consider – dignity.

I ask this: have any of you who so vehemently oppose voluntary euthanasia ever watched someone you love die in mental and physical agony, inch by inch? Well, I have, and it is a predicament that even the most blasé of us never forget. Certainly, if it happened to the family dog, it would not be tolerated. – Letter to the Editor, Sydney Morning Herald, 25 March 1997[10]

Conclusion

The Euthanasia Laws Act came about as a result of a complex, underhand and underground network of anti-choice activists and politicians who succeeded in ramming through one of the most undemocratic and unfair legislative amendments in Australian political history.

The one common thread binding most, but not all of the political players, was their Christian faith. Ironically, the Northern Territory of Australia was and remains the least religious jurisdiction in Australia.

The removal of s50A from the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978 is long overdue. Its removal is even more urgent when one understands the deeply undemocratic way the section came to be contained within the Act in the first place.

This betrayal of democracy is a stain on our country. It should never have happened. This is not how the rule of law looks, not even in Australia.

Restoring the ability of the democratically-elected representatives of the Northern Territory to pass laws on all manner of subjects will restore democracy to Northern Territorians.

The argument ‘for’ the removal of s50A should be a no brainer.

Philip Nitschke, PhD, MBBS

Exit International

PO Box 37781

Winnellie NT 0821

Postbus 283

2000 AG Haarlem, NL

Phone: 0407 189 339

+ 31 6309 66992 (NL)

contact@exitinternational.net

Footnotes

[1] Sydney Morning Herald, 25 March 1997 (Senate Hansard, March 26 1997).

[2] As early as May 1995 at the invitation of The Australian’s national affairs editor, Mike Steketee, Jim Dominguez would appear in the paper under the guise of opinion writer and in the letters to the editor. All the while his biography would fail to acknowledge his early commitment to the Euthanasia No campaign. Instead, he appeared variously as ‘Jim the Banker’, and ‘Jim from Hunters Hill’.
[3] Michael Gordon, 1997. A full analysis of the Euthanasia No campaign can be found in Gordon’s 1997 article in the Weekend Australian entitled ‘Holy Alliance: The Inside Story of Euthanasia’s Demise’, 29 March 1997.

[4] Australia, House of Representatives, 1996, Speech, Second Reading Euthanasia Laws Bill 1996, p. 5920.
[5] Australia, House of Representatives, 1996, Speech, Second Reading Euthanasia Laws Bill 1996, p. 7325.
[6] Sydney Morning Herald 25 March 1997, (Senate Hansard, 26 March 1997).
[7] Senate Hansard, 26 March 1997.
[8] Senate Hansard, 26 March 1997.
[9] Sydney Morning Herald, 25 March 25 1997, (Senate Hansard, 26 March 1997).
[10] Senate Hansard, 26 March 1997.

A fuller account of this period of Australian history is contained in the book by Philip Nitshcke & Fiona Stewart, Killing Me Softly: VE and the Road to the Peaceful Pill (Penguin, 2005).

The Ensuring Northern Territory Rights Bill 2021 is long overdue!

Ensuring Northern Territory Rights Bill 2021

August 1, 2021

The Azide Wars

The Backstory

The first shots in The Azide Wars were fired in March 2019 when the Dutch Medical Association Journal NTvG published several articles attacking what was described in the editorial as ‘the ideology of suicide”’

In a lead article ‘The Rise and Fall of Agent X’, journalist (and co-author with Boudewijm Chabot of Uitweg), Stella Braam, argued that those seeking access to their own end of life drugs were ‘enthusiastic amateurs, blinded by their enthusiasm and pressured by their supporters’.

A further article in the same edition, ‘Autointoxication with suicide powder’ stated, with limited evidence that the suggested suicide drugs were ‘extremely unsuitable’ because of the alleged ‘unbearable symptoms’ they would initiate.

It was clear from these published articles, and the hostile editorial of NTvG that anyone advocating the right to have control over one’s death was in for a fight to the death (excuse the pun) with the Dutch medical establishment.

The azide wars

The CLW Breakthrough?

In September 2017, Dutch right to die group Cooperative Last Will, or CLW, announced in the national Dutch media that they had discovered a substance that was legal, easy to obtain and when taken as a drink or tablet would cause a reliable and peaceful death. This claim immediately attracted attention around the world.

Described by CLW as the perfect ‘Drion Pill’, Middel X was something that would place the option of a reliable, elective death back in the hands of the individual.

Most importantly, Middel X would offer those who wanted to bypass the restrictions and bureaucracy of Dutch euthanasia law a legitimate and legal way out.

No longer would a person have to argue their case to a doctor. No longer would a doctor get to say that, in their opinion, they were not suffering enough, Middel X would de-medicalise one’s decision to die along with the act itself.

At the time, CLW refused to name the substance they were referring to. They argued that to do so would be irresponsible to do so.

The Azide Wars

However, in not naming Middel X as azide, speculation and intrigue only increased.

Of course, retired scientists within the community of Exit soon outed the mysterious Middel X as either sodium azide and sodium nitrite. Both were simple, legal, available inorganic salts which made both of them possible contenders.

Indeed, the use sodium nitrite as a means of providing a humane death to feral pig populations in Australia was front of mind for Exit who, in 2017, was already examining this substance as a possible ‘Peaceful Pill’ (Exit term for the Dutch ‘Drion Pill’ or ‘Last Will Pill’).

Interestingly, Huib Drion was one of the first Dutchman I ever met. He was a retired president of the Dutch Supreme Court. On my first visit to the Netherlands in 1998, he invited me to coffee at his home in The Hague. This was a two short years after the Northern Territory’s Rights of the Terminally Ill Act had been overturned by Federal Australian Parliament;

As history tells it, that law allowed me to provide lethal legal injections to four terminally ill patients. It was those deaths and other attempted assisted deaths in relation to that law that made it clear to me from that restrictive medical legislation was not the answer to the question of a peaceful, elected death at a time of one’s choosing.

I was aware of  Judge Drion, after reading a provocative opinion piece by him in a Dutch national broadsheet where he had argued that all elderly people should have access to a lethal pill. Drion believed that access to such a pill was a fundamental human right and that it was independent of one’s state of heath.

The Azide Wars

The concept of a pill made good sense to me and when I met the 80-year former judge and he explained his concept in detail, I knew I had met a kindred soul.

On that afternoon we discussed possible contenders. For me it was always going to be the barbiturate Nembutal. However, as Judge Drion pointed out, tight legal restriction made this unlikely. There must be another substance he argued: one that was not already under such tight state control.

Fast Forward to Azide

The September 2017 update to The Peaceful Pill Handbook included details of both the azide and nitrite salts.

While it was clear that both salts could end life, there was little to no detail about the reliability or, importantly, the peacefulness of the process of each. There were few available first-hand accounts.

After careful analysis, Exit concluded that nitrite was probably a slightly better end of life option than azide.

Be that as it may, in 2018 CLW announced that they would soon be distributing Middel X to their members.

Internet chatter about the exact nature of the ‘suicide powder’ (as the media labelled it) again intensified.

When, in early 2018, Dutch teenager Ximena Knoll, 19, ended her life after researching the issue on the Internet, it was reported in the media that she had obtained Middel X.

Understandably, Ximena’s parents were distressed. They argued that the Dutch government should move to restrict the activities of CLW. They blamed CLW for their daughter’s suicide.

The Azide Wars

The Dutch government did act, regulating whom could purchase inorganic salts such as nitrite and azide. Dutch chemical distributors responded by restricting their sales to individuals.

CLW with then threatened with prosecution if they dared to continue with their distribution strategy.  Undeterred, the membership of the CLW continued to grow steeply.

The War

The Dutch Medical Association – via their Journal – continued to attack the  ‘suicide powders’, claiming they were ineffective and unpredictable often resulting in failure.

However, there was scant evidence to back up this claim.

Indeed, the suggestion that nitrite was an ‘extremely unsuitable suicide agent’ was based on two incomplete case studies.

Neither study provided any detail on symptoms experienced. This shortage of detail only made claims and further counter claims possible.

Meanwhile, CLW admitted that Middel X was indeed sodium azide, producing a report from toxicologist Dr GHM Counotte where it was argued that it was a reliable end of life method and that the few adverse symptoms that were experienced before loss of consciousness were ‘readily treatable’.

Others disagreed and the Azide Wars took hold.

Dutch psychiatrist and author of the book Uitweg, Boudewijn Chabot, wanted it known that sodium azide is a poor and dangerous substitute to the reliable and supervised barbiturate, Nembutal, as administered under Dutch euthanasia law.

The Azide Wars

Chabot’s problem was that he did not have enough sufficient eye-witness accounts of azide deaths to make his criticisms stick.

The Azide Wars now divide the global right to die movement.

While some thought that the unsupervised distribution (and use) of readily available suicide agents would delay and frustrate moves to bring in medical aid in dying (MAiD) legislation, other such as CLW pushed ahead regardless.

Even hitherto supporters of the DIY ‘self-deliverance’ approach such as Derek Humphry (author of Final Exit), expressed saying that he felt it would be irresponsible for him to include any details of the ‘suicide salts’ in a future edition of his book.

Give us the Science

The usefulness, or otherwise, of these inorganic salts can only be resolved when enough data become available.

This is why the recent data about sodium azide from both the Dutch Poisons Centre (DPIC) (who have made public the details of some 19 cases of people who ingested azide), and from member accounts provided by CLW (these data detail some 29 azide deaths since 2019) is so important to the so-called Azide Wars.

Both data sets have been published in the August update of The Peaceful Pill eHandbook.

The Azide Wars

Analysis of the data goes a long way to resolving the issue of the nature of the death that these salts can bring about.

In Exit’s view, sodium azide is well and truly confirmed as a means of bringing about a reliable, DIY death, even if some questions remain about time to loss of consciousness, and the possibility of experiencing un-relievable, unpleasant symptoms in the process.

These accounts should be considered alongside a number of specific, already-known issues such as the challenges of storage, safe disposal, and the possible risk that sodium azide poses after death to others who may try to render help.

In conclusion it is NTgV who are wrong in their assumptions.

There is no evidence that CLW are either amateurs nor can they be said to be blinded by their enthusiasm.

What can be said is that they have been ‘enthusiastic’ in their promotion of Middel X.

However, unlike the Dutch Medical Association, they have at least the science to back up their claims.

Author: Philip Nitschke

Amsterdam, 1 August 2021