It was only a matter of time.
A month ago, after making a plea bargain to avoid medical tribunal hearings expected to take up to six weeks in Darwin, Philip Nitschke accepted significant restrictions being placed on his licence to practice medicine in return for avoiding a drawn out and very public airing of the 12 complaints lodged against him with the Australian Medical Board.
Today he announced that he is surrendering his medical licence so as to continue his work with Exit International unshackled from any restriction.
In Darwin, at his media conference, Nitschke set alight his medical practice certificate in outright defiance of the medical board and their restrictions made in good faith. Eighteen years ago, in Canberra, Nitschke also set alight to a copy of the Euthanasia Laws Act which overturned the world's first euthanasia laws enacted less than a year earlier in the Northern Territory.
This has the air of a very elaborate and callous charade that seemingly has rewarded public tantrum and trampled due process and justice.
I'm angry. Very angry. A number of the complaints that Nitschke has artfully dodged are tragedies of personal family loss. These families deserved their 'day in court'; they deserved the opportunity to tell their story and to warn Australia and the world about the risks of association with Exit and Philip Nitschke. Above all, they deserve some sense of justice; some closure for their great loss. At least with Nitschke silenced by the Medical Board, he might not be a risk to others, so we all thought.
There are others, like myself, who made complaints purely out of concern for public safety. Readers may choose to dismiss my claim that there is a risk. After all, as some have observed, Nitschke is something of a cult hero to many. Trouble is, no-one gets to make that judgement for themselves.
And so, he casts off his medical licence to continue his work at Exit. Well that all sounds rather ethical doesn't it? When faced with two mutually exclusive choices, decide in favour of one and shun the other. Bravo! But forgive me if I see a metaphorical index finger rising here. This is Nitschke in today's Age newspaper:
"I will remain a doctor and will legitimately use that title, and I will continue to see patients and Exit members in clinics that I run in Australia and other countries," Dr Nitschke told reporters in Darwin on Friday as he set his certificate alight.
Clinics? Patients? Sounds like medical practice to me. In his press release, he added: "Indeed while in Darwin this visit I will be seeing two terminal patients who have sought my advice."
But to put the matter of ethics beyond any doubt, Nitschke conducted a survey of, wait for it, Exit members who, surprisingly told Nitschke to get back to work!
Total spin from Exit's newsletter: The 'Future of Exit Survey' was open to Exit members from around the world. Exit's newsletter says that members 'have 2 options: 1. Should Philip give up his medical registration and continue his pioneering work at Exit? 2. Should Philip close Exit and keep his medical registration?'
Of the 1125 people who took the survey, 97.87% said that Nitschke should continue his work at Exit International. That's quite a small voter turn out for an international organisation. Nevertheless, the overwhelming response will no doubt have been convincing.
But numbers don't really matter in a personality cult. Cue Edward Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance:
"I will retain my directorship of Exit International and will continue to work towards a future where all rational adults have access to the information and means to peacefully end their lives at the time of their choosing. In particular, I will pursue the policies recently outlined by the Dutch voluntary euthanasia society NVVE to ensure that all adults over the age of 70 have access to a reliable Peaceful Pill. In addition, I will continue to seek political support in Australia for the decriminalisation of possession and importation of small quantities (<15gm) of Nembutal."
Sounds more like a business plan than a social movement manifesto. Civil disobedience is one thing, knowingly putting lives at risk is another.