The recent news of the suspension of Philip Nitschke's medical licence pending the medical board of Australia's investigations is good news. But many have asked: why has it taken so long?
The trigger issue for the medical board was the suicide death of Perth man, Nigel Brayley. Suicide Prevention group, Beyond Blue and others argued that, in Nitschke's contact with Brayley, he had a duty of care to try and stop Brayley from taking his own life. The medical board response suggests that they agree.
Nitschke has claimed that his contact with Brayley was not medical in nature and therefore created no onus upon him to attempt to stop Brayley. But a medical professional is a medical professional 24/7 and not simply during a scheduled clinical consultation. There are many professions in our community that hold some sort of mandated civic duty at all times; surely a doctor is no different?
That it has taken so long for the ubiquitous head of the Exit 'death cult' as journalist Angela Shanahan called it, to find himself 'in the dock' is indeed a matter of some frustration for opponents, including this writer. That it eventually did happen was always a safe bet.
Two years ago when I made a complaint to the medical board I did so because of a significant public safety concern arising out of the then latest in Exit death methods - nitrogen gas hypoxia. What made this method even more of a concern than the other earlier methods was its marketing slogan: "â€¦for an undetectable deathâ€¦"
The Exit sales blurb talked about this 'undetectability' being for those who didn't want to be remembered as, 'Uncle so-and-so who killed himself.' Our concern was more about what was not said - but clearly inferred.
There's nothing 'undetectable' about an Exit nitrogen death if it is truly a do-it-yourself method. The deceased will be found with a gas canister and paraphernalia. Pretty obvious.
So, to be 'undetectable' there would need to be a complicit third party who would dispose of the evidence. Now there's a third party involved; now there's someone at risk of being charged with the criminal offence of assisting in a suicide.
If that were not enough of a red flag, this 'undetectability' provides an opportunity for someone to dispose of someone else with the benefit of being able to avoid suspicion. It's a rolled-gold method for the most sinister form of elder abuse.
The Brayley case is a 'smoking gun', whereas our observations about a real life-and-death risk to the elderly and infirmed, whilst sound and logical, remained theoretical. That is; until July this year in the Utah town of Roy.
Dennis Chamberlain is charged with first degree murder for allegedly killing his wife, Jean Chamberlain and trying to make it look like a natural death.
Jean Chamberlain died in February this year. She was ill and undergoing treatment and was in the care of her husband, Dennis, in their Roy home. Dennis Chamberlain did not advise Roy police of Jean's death, preferring instead, as he later told his family, to call on an LDS Bishop who declared his wife deceased. As a Roy Detective noted, Mrs Chamberlain's recent illness and visit to a doctor on the morning of her death were reason enough to issue a death certificate at that time.
It was not until months after the death and burial of jean Chamberlain that her family raised their suspicion that all was not as it seemed after Chamberlain had told conflicting stories about what had happened that day in February.
Police issued a warrant to search Chamberlain's home. According to one news report, they found:
On his computer police say they found "methods on how to commit suicide and other resources such as doctors to sign death certificates."
Police claim he bought "an oxygen mask and a book titled "the Peaceful Pill Handbook".
They also found an exit bag, a plastic hoodie used for suffocation.
The Roy Police Press release of the 1st of July made the claimed subterfuge even clearer:
After several warrants and subpoenas were written and served by investigators, it was found that Dennis had been researching ways to commit suicide and other resources, such as how to find doctors to sign death certificates, and searches that were specific to certain medications, chemicals, and poisons, which could be used to help end your life, and not be detected at autopsy. (PR: sound familiar!)
Also located was a book which is an instructional book on how to commit suicide without it being detected in an autopsy, this book could also be used as a guide to commit a homicide, and it was found that Dennis had purchased items mentioned in this book the day Jean had died, and it is believed that these items were used to end Jean's life.
The Salt Lake Tribune puts it this way:
Detectives also learned that Chamberlain allegedly purchased an oxygen mask and a book titled "The Peaceful Pill Handbook," a euthanasia and suicide how-to manual. Several areas of the book pertaining to the use of nitrogen gas and making of a so-called "Exit Bag" - a plastic bag with a drawstring to put over one's head - were marked, the affidavit contends.
Mrs Chamberlain's body was subsequently exhumed for examination. The specifics of what this autopsy discovered have not been made known, but the Roy Police did confirm that 'medical examiners found evidence of asphyxiation'.
A preliminary hearing on the charges has been set down for the 29th of August.