Australian Suicide Prevention Organisation confirms medical board complaint against Nitschke

This article in today's Herald Sun, by Beyond Blue chairman, The Hon Jeff Kennett AC confirms that a complaint will be made by that organisation to the Australian Medical Board. This follows confirmation yesterday that the West Australian Branch of the Australian Medical Association will do likewise.  

Earlier, The Black Dog Institute suggested that they may also make a complaint, but this has not been confirmed. In all, that makes five or possibly six complaints to the medical board int he last two years including one from HOPE.

Life is the greatest gift we're given

BEYONDBLUE was founded in 2000, after the deaths - suicides - of two young men in the Western District in 1997.

Since, it has worked nationally to reduce the stigma attached to depression and mental illnesses through education, research and, importantly, public advocacy.

Why? Because two-thirds of suicides are conducted by people suffering emotional or clinical depression. So reducing suicides has been a major underlying reason for beyondblue's work and very existence.

The Australian Statistician recently released the preliminary suicide toll for 2012: 2535. A figure that will probably grow when final investigations into some deaths are completed. Of those 2535 deaths, 1312, more than half, were people under 45 years of age. To get that number into perspective, 49 Australians a week die by their own hand. That is absolutely unacceptable by any measure.

The national road toll in 2012 was 1310, almost half the suicide rate. Is it therefore any wonder beyondblue, Lifeline, Sane, Black Dog, all governments in Australia, plus many other like-minded organisations, are working separately and collaboratively to reduce the rate of suicide.

The reader of this column might therefore understand my and beyondblue's disappointment, no, anger, on hearing that Dr Philip Nitschke had "supported" a 49-year-old West Australian man, Nigel Brayley, in perfect health, to end his life.

Further, while "supporting" this able-bodied male to do so, Dr Nitschke has stated he did not think it was his obligation or responsibility to refer his client to another medical professional with appropriate qualifications to deal with the issues that led Mr Brayley to seek to end his life.

I am surprised by Dr Nitschke's stance, given the Hippocratic oath doctors are bound by.

How could he support the death of a young individual in good health? How could he have not referred the young man to appropriate support?

Sadly, he has put the case for euthanasia for those that are terminally ill, in irrevocable pain, or lost all sense of personal dignity, under strict conditions, back many years. And I have been a public supporter for many years of euthanasia under the circumstances described above.

Dr Nitschke has coined the phrase "rational suicide" to attempt to justify his recent action. There is no such thing as a "rational suicide".

What he has supported is death. The taking or ending of a life. Some might even say murder of an able-bodied Australian who was in need of professional help.

Dr Nitschke has also inferred that anyone of sound mind should have the right to end their lives, regardless of age or condition. How totally reprehensible! Unacceptable.

It goes against everything we at beyondblue and like organisations and governments are working to deliver, a much lower suicide rate.

Perhaps this has been the true intention of Philip Nitschke all along; to make suicide assistance available to everyone, using the supportable issue of euthanasia for the terminally ill as a Trojan horse. What message does this send out to all those who are facing emotional issues or even clinical depression? What message does this send to so many of our troubled and confused young?

The reality is most emotional issues can be overcome with professional help and time, and even the most serious clinical depressive illnesses, correctly diagnosed, can lead an individual to lead a very productive life.

In short, Dr Nitschke's actions and comments cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged. We might as well close shop if Dr Nitschke's position became the community standard or acceptable to the community. For that reason beyondblue will be lodging an official complaint with the Australian Medical Board, asking it to conduct an investigation into Dr Nitschke's actions and comments, and whether he has forfeited the right to practise.

Once lodged neither beyondblue nor I will make further public comment until the Medical Board completes its investigation.

One other matter I wish to raise, and will with the federal authorities. If we are serious about reducing the suicide rate, the Federal Government must be prepared to act against a number of websites that provide information and even products for those seeking such things on suicide.

If the Government, if politicians, are serious about reducing suicide, and I am sure they are, then all such websites should be closed down now as a matter of urgency.

The gift of life is the most important gift we all receive. We should never take it for granted. We should use it as our personal rock against which we measure stress and anxiety.

Under certain circumstances, when human dignity is lost, when a terminal illness and pain are one's constant partner, and under strict circumstances, I believe euthanasia is acceptable.

Have a good day, and give thanks every morning you wake up, just for waking up, for having another 24 hours.

Jeff Kennett is a former premier of Victoria