Assisted death as charity?

When we hear about charities, we often imagine organisations with proud histories of humanitarian missions: feeding, clothing and housing those in need, providing healthcare to the sick and saving lives. 

Not so for Australia’s Dr Death, according to Bioedge, Philip Nitschke has managed to obtain tax-deductibility status in the US for his pro-suicide organisation, Exit Generation. US citizens who make donations to his pro-suicide mission will be able to receive a deduction at tax time. 

It throws the concept of ‘charitable purpose’ out the window, because Nitschke’s mission is the exact opposite of charity. It’s about putting people who should be the recipients of our charity to death.

In pursuit of that uncharitable purpose, Nitschke has made two recent announcements.

The first is that his death pod, Sarco, will likely be used for the first time in Switzerland this year. In an interview with the UK’s Daily Mail, Nitschke described the pod’s operation as follows:

“The person will climb into the machine, they will be asked three questions and they will answer verbally - 'Who are you?', 'Where are you?' and 'Do you know what happens if you press the button?' 

‘And if they answer those questions verbally, the software then switches the power on so that the button can then be pressed.

'And if they press the button they will die very quickly.”

Note that Nitschke’s pod has nothing to do with a patient who is terminally ill or even sick; the only requirement is that they have the mental capacity to answer the questions. According to Nitschke, the pod will offer death to a person “whether they're sick or not”.

But Nitschke is not content with giving only people who can consent to death the means to die; he went on to say that he is developing an implant to end the life of those with dementia.

The article describes how it would work:

“Users would have to press a button on the implant regularly, perhaps once a day Dr Nitschke suggested, to prevent a lethal dose of poison being administered. 

“If the disease progressed to a point where the person did not have the capability to press the button then the device would end their life.”

Many people have the experience of forgetting things: appointments, keys, phones, even what day of the week it is. The consequences of failing to remember these things can be annoying, but not fatal. Failing to forget to disarm a lethal implant, however, is deadly.

Nitschke’s proposals might be shocking, but they are the logical end of the pro-suicide movement; not only should anyone with capacity who wants to die be assisted to do so, those without capacity should also be given a way to pre-plan their death, even if they change their mind but are incapable of communicating their wishes. 

Assisted suicide advocates in Australia and abroad might want to distance themselves from him, but they cannot. He is their standard bearer.