The Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency, the Medical Board, moved today (26th Oct) to curtail the suicide advocacy of Dr Philip Nitschke in creating an unprecedented 25 restrictions upon his licence to practice medicine.
This action is the culmination of a dozen complaints the agency had received, dating back almost four years, including one by the author over three years ago about the promotion of hypoxic death methods utilizing nitrogen gas.
Originally, the 12 complaints were to have been aired in medical tribunal hearings scheduled for Darwin (NT) in November. Nitschke admitted, in various news reports today that he had 'reached an agreement' with the medical board in September this year to accept the boards restrictions rather than facing 'four to six weeks of "costly" tribunal hearings.' He may have been concerned for the cost after recently incurring significant legal fees in successfully appealing an earlier suspension.
However, it is perhaps more likely that his 'agreement' with the medical board was more about trying to avoid the airing of the substance of the 12 complaints in a public forum.
In essence, the board restrictions convey a very clear message that it is not proper for a medical professional to be involved in suicide advocacy or suicide coaching. We question whether anyone should be involved. But, in deference to the medical board, they can only make a judgement within their competency.
The only other action the board could have taken would have been to cancel Nitschke's medical practice certificate outright. I'm glad they did not take this course. If they had, we would not now have the itemized list of 25 particular matters of concern to the board in the operation of Exit International.
The most significant restrictions will mean that Nitschke can no longer have any formal involvement in the work of Exit. No workshops, no advice, name removed from his published handbook, name and association removed from the website and the removal of all advocacy videos from the internet etc. It would be foolish to assume that this spells the end of Exit; it does not. His partner, Fiona Stewart has promised to continue his work and Nitschke has indicated that, upon his return to Australia, he will consider whether or not to abandon his medical licence completely.
All the while the Australian public remain in the dark about these 12 complaints and the macabre and clandestine practices that see a continuing escalation in the body count. The suicide statistics are now showing an increase in the number of suicides using Exit-preferred methods and amongst a younger cohort.
The medical board have done all that they can under their charter and we applaud their efforts. Hope is now calling for a national inquiry into Exit and Dr Nitschke as a matter of public safety. All Australians deserve to know, those that have lost loved ones deserve justice and vulnerable people deserve to be protected.
In May this year at the inaugural HOPE International Symposium in Adelaide, two courageous women who had lost loved ones to Exit methods told their stories. There are, unfortunately, others; many others besides. I dedicated the conference to them, their loved ones and to their courage and the pursuit of justice.
Today some justice was metred out. But while ever Exit can operate in the shadows and ply its grotesque trade others are at risk. We would not tolerate this under any other guise or circumstance.
As a matter of some urgency, we have called upon those in power to create an inquiry into Exit and its activities. The suicide coaching must stop.
It is not over until it is over.
You can view the AHPRA decision HERE. (Follow links for details)
Medical Board acts against Dr Nitschke - HOPE Media Release
ABC Radio PM Program interview (including podcast and transcript)
Note: If anything in this article causes you any difficlty, please talk to someone.
You can ring the Suicide Call Back service on freecall 1300 659 467