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Peaceful Pill Blog

June 15, 2015

The slippery slope

Those who are opposed to rational people having the ability to make their own choices about how their life ends are fond of using the phrase ‘the slippery slope’ and also of quoting erroneous statistics from The Netherlands.

Steven Poole in The Guardian wrote a nice article on the origins of the phrase and why its use is problematic.

“The invocation of a slippery slope is almost always anti-rational fear mongering,” he writes. “The phrase acts as a little weapon of ready-made false reasoning that the wielder supposes to function as a knockout argument.”

I am not astounded by the simple lies perpetuated by the plethora of websites dedicated to this anti-rational fear mongering. People who feel that they are engaged in a kind of war on what they see as immorality will frequently use whatever methods they see fit to try and gain the advantage, and quoting erroneous or made up numbers without giving sources or references is the least of them. There’s not much one can say in response to that other than ‘show me the evidence’, but what about interpretations of figures that are correct?

For example the number of people successfully requesting medical help to end their lives in the Netherlands has doubled between 2008 (2331 people) and 2013 (4829 people). These are official figures from the Regionale Toetsingscommissies Euthanasie, the five regional government agencies charged with ensuring the appropriate implementation of the euthanasia law.

Whilst those of us on this side of the argument might be pleased with these figures, since far fewer people suffered needlessly in 2013 than in 2008, those who are opposed to a change in the law are horrified. They see it as incontrovertible evidence of the so-called ‘slippery slope’. But clearly it is inevitable if something becomes legal, that more people are likely to avail themselves of that legal thing over time – and to report it to the appropriate government agency. What would be more interesting is to correlate the figures with the numbers of people forced to ending their lives in non dignified non peaceful ways. Unfortunately the government agency is not charged with reporting on this but it would not be surprising if there was a significant corresponding reduction in those figures.

Dr.Johannes Klabbers

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slippery slope

April 27, 2015

Gotta Love the Irish

Gail in pink scarf

Gail O’Rorke arriving at Court

In a court case that has caused many to wonder about the state of the Irish nation, Dublin taxi-driver, Gail O’Rorke has recently seen her life played out in Ireland’s criminal courts.

Her crime?

To try to help her good friend and MS sufferer, Bernadette Forde, travel to Dignitas in Zurich for an assisted suicide.

Yet the whole plan come unstuck when a travel agent by the name of Rathgar Travel reported Gail to the police when she went to purchase tickets for the pair to make the 1.5 hour flight.

The prosecution told the court that it made no difference that the police foiled the plan and the trip to Switzerland never took place. Rather, in the eyes of the law it was what Gail allegedly did, as a good friend understandably would do, to help her friend that was the crime.

In reply the defence SC, Dermott McGuinness, said to the court

‘Did you ever think that you could go into a travel agents and book a flight and try and get the tickets and wind up on the wrong end of an indictment? Could you believe that?’

The answer is clearly no.

When the jury went out for their verdict on Monday 27 April, Gail O’Rorke had supporters of voluntary euthanasia/ assisted suicide watching carefully, and not just in Ireland.

A guilty verdict would have set an important precedent.

While not directly applicable to Ireland, a guilty verdict would have left the UK DPP’s Assisted Suicide Guidelines in tatters.

This is because, on almost every count, there was never any public interest in prosecuting Gail O’Rorke in the first place.

Was her status as a minority beneficiary in her friend’s will enough to have a jury believe that she ‘did it for the money’?

Or should her ignorance of the peculiar twist on the law have brought her down?

After all, Gail admitted to not realising that buying a one way plane ticket to Zurich so that her close friend could have the peaceful, lawful death that she so wanted was an offence?

Well blow me down, neither would most of us. And this is the point.

In most countries, in spite of assisted suicide being unlawful in the majority of places, no State authority has dared to go after the friends and family of a dying person; friends and family who ‘do the right thing’.

Who support their loved one in their quest for a peaceful, lawful end.

Not the Irish!

Assisted dying seems to be the Catholic Church’s last bastion of control.

The Church lost abortion when, in 2013, Ireland’s Parliament finally passed the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 which allows terminations under strict conditions.

And the Church looks like losing the 22 May 2015 referendum on gay marriage too.

That leaves dying with dignity as their last battleground.

And it shows the Catholic Church as continuing to look away. It leaves their cruel and inhumane treatment of the sickest in society; those whose vulnerability through illness makes them unable to fight for their right to die when and how they choose.

The charges which the court ordered on Friday 24 April to be dropped were:

1. the procurement via the Internet of Nembutal from Mexico; the drug which Bernadette took to die; and

2. Gail’s help in organising Bernadette’s funeral prior to the time of her death – an instance of attempting to procure her suicide.

Were the stakes not so high, the past week of court room antics would have been laughable.

In a majority (note not unanimous verdict) the jury delivered the right and proper one verdict. ‘Not Guilty’. But what an awful and scandalous waste of Irish tax payers dollars. Surely the State can do better.

Dr Philip Nitschke

29 April 2015

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April 15, 2015

MET Interview Philip Nitschke Under Caution on 16 April 2015

PN and the MET

Philip with some friendly London Bobbies

So, the MET have received a vexatious complaint from pro-life UK and the Metropolitan Police want to interview Exit Director, Philip Nitschke, under caution?

Hell no, don’t talk about death and dying. At least not in England.

This matter is all about free speech. It is about the Religious Right not liking the right of others who are not of their way of thinking, wanting to talk about when and how they might die in a way that is peaceful, dignified and reliable.

Pro-life think death and dying is in the hands of God. For them it might be, for non-believers it is not.

While almost no one wants to die, absolutely no one wants to suffer dying.  Coming to an Exit meeting and having your questions about death and dying answered in a non-emotive, factual yet sensitive manner can be hugely reassuring.

Just having access to this information can reassure a person who is elderly or who is seriously ill. From knowledge comes power.  From knowledge comes a sense of being back in control and able to make one’s own informed decisions, should the need ever arise.

The whole idea of knowing about how to die peacefully and reliably, should things ever come to that, should not be a controversial issue. Rather, it’s an insurance policy for the future.

But in England it’s become a controversy.

Watch this space for more news on Thursday’s interview and its aftermath.

Will or will not, the Crown Prosecution Service decide that Philip Nitschke has breached the UK Suicide Act by answering the questions of hundreds if not thousands of Exit Members about their end of life choices.

Or will they respect the core individual rights and freedoms enshrined by British Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights and allow Exit members freedom of association and the freedom to access information that they wish?


15 April 2015

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April 11, 2015

Lucretia Seales is a New Zealand lawyer dying of a brain tumour

ABC Lateline



Lucretia Seales is a New Zealand lawyer dying of a brain tumour.

She was interviewed on ABC TV’s Lateline show on Friday 10 April 2015.  The interview has many points of note:



1. Lucretia was asked in detail about the desired manner and timing of her death. Her response was the same as that of many Exit Members; she wants to die at home after a lovely meal, surrounded by family and her beloved cat. In regard to the timing of her death, she stated that it would be at a time prior to her losing her mental faculties ‘because that is not who I am’.

2.   When asked of her end of life options at the current time, Lucretia’s responses focused on refusing food and liquids, in essence starving herself to death. Hardly dignified and hardly desirable. A point she would come back to reference at the end of the interview.

3. In regard to her legal battle, Lucretia spoke about the disjunction between the NZ Crimes Act and the NZ Bill of Rights. She is seeking a declaration to assert her right to choose when and how she dies. She stated it is not the role of the doctor or the family. She wants a framework for people who are terminally ill to die in a dignified manner.  This is especially since suicide is not a crime in New Zealand (as is the case for most western countries).

Legally speaking, a ‘declaration’ falls within the law of equity.  A declaration is a remedy to settle a real legal controversy.  A similar approach was taken in the Canadian case of Gloria Taylor where it was held in February 2015 that the criminal laws of Canada had violated the section 7 protections of ‘life, liberty and security’ of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

A similar approach was taken by the partner of Exit’s Tom Curran, Marie Fleming, in Ireland in 2013. In that case, Marie had sought a declaration from Ireland’s Supreme Court that under the Irish Constitution where the right to life is protected, so there is a corresponding right to die assisted by others. Marie lost her case.

4. When asked who should have access to life ending drugs, Lucretia replied that it should only be for ‘competent adults’. While this view is understandable, it would mean that a younger person who is also terminally ill would be refused help to die.  The terminally ill nineteen year old would have their suffering prolonged.

This is not the case in either the Netherlands or Belgium where children now have access to voluntary death laws.  It is to the ABC’s shame that the interviewer, Emma Alberici, then tried to tease out whether Lucretia supported voluntary euthanasia for those with dementia or depression, ‘as is the case in Switzerland’ she argued.

In Switzerland, the legal model is entirely different. Helping someone to die is not predicated upon a particular illness or suffering. Rather, as long as the act of helping is not done for selfish reasons, the assistance provided is not unlawful. And besides, a personal with a terminal diagnosis is often depressed. Who wouldn’t be. But does this mean they have lost their decision-making capacity? Of course not.

And on the issue of dementia, it is only the Netherlands who allows, controversially, an advance directive to include a direction to voluntary euthanasia at a time when capacity is lost due to dementia.  Given the increase in rates of dementia amongst a population that is living longer than ever before, and given the concern amongst the elderly of what will happen to them should they be diagnosed with dementia, this is the elephant in the room that few commentators as yet have had the courage to discuss.

The ABC would do well to involve themselves in the more rigorous and intellectual aspects of this debate, rather than creating a moral panic of slippery slopes and lack of safeguards.

To her credit Lucretia stated that people with dementia should be allowed access to a law.  This echoes the 2012 ‘End of Life Choices Bill’ of former NZ MP for Nelson, Maryann Street. No doubt Lucretia was aware of this legislative attempt for change, even though Street withdrew this Bill from the ballot prior to the 2014 New Zealand general election. It was the nail in the coffin of legislative change in NZ that Street went on to lose her seat and is now out of the NZ Parliament altogether.

5. Continuing on the same well-trodden, scare-mongering line of questioning, Alberici continued by asking what sort of safeguards would be necessary to ensure the elderly or the vulnerable were not subjected to ‘intolerable pressure’ to do the right thing and die.

The response from Lucretia was that the request would need to come from the patient themselves, the request would need to be repeated, the doctor would need to be satisfied that there was no coercion, and the death was formally reported.

These are the exact same requirements that operated under the Northern Territory’s Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995.

The safeguards under Section 7 of  that Act were that the patient had to:

  • Be aged 18 years or over
  • Be suffering from a recognised terminal illness
  • Be of sound mind, and not suffering from treatable, clinical depression
  • Satisfy a doctor that there were  no acceptable treatment options in the hope of effecting a cure
  • Consider the implications for their family
  • Wait 7 days after making their first request to die
  • Wait a further 48 hours after

And, under s 13 of the ROTI Act the death was reportable to the Coroner.

6. When asked about the dangers of ‘suicide tourism’ were New Zealand to change their laws, Lucretia rose to the challenge, pointing out that not everyone is lucky enough to be a New Zealander and intimating towards asking why those who are less fortunate should be punished in this way.

This echoes the humanitarian approach shown by groups such as Dignitas and Life Circle in Switzerland. Why should a seriously ill person be prevented from accessing a peaceful death at a time of their choosing, simply because they possess the wrong nationality?

This view stands in stark contrast to the approach most recently advocated in Tasmania.  When that State tried to pass their ‘Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill’ in 2013 where a person would needed to have been resident in Tasmania for 12 months to qualify.  Similar residential restrictions apply in the US States of Oregon, Washington and Vermont as well as in the European countries of the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.

6. Catholic Politicians – According to Lucretia Seales, one of the main factors preventing politicians from representing the wishes of the electorate is because many of them ‘grew up Catholic’. This is a oft-heard argument.  Given New Zealand’s active, if quaintly named, ‘Society for the Protection of Community Standards’, she is not far off the mark.  This is depsite polls showing that 80% plus support voluntary euthanasia.

7. Seale’s application in the NZ High Court is set down to be heard on 25 May 2015.

8. The rather insensitive final question from the ABC is whether she would contemplate starving herself to death should her application fail. The answer was that the thought had crossed her mind but it was something she definitely did not want to do.

And then of course the ABC fall into black comedy, reciting the contact phone numbers of Lifeline and Beyond Blue. Believing the myth that to even speak about the issue of end of life choices, one might be so moved to suicide right here right now. What crap, what wrot.

Lucretia Seales is an excellent spokesperson for the right to die. The media should give her the respect her courage to speak out deserves.

Dr Fiona Stewart

11 April 2015

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