In the latest instalment of the ongoing saga between the Medical Board of Australia, AHPRA, and head of Exit International, Philip Nitschke, the latter seems to have scored a small victory.
In July 2014 the South Australian Branch of the Medical Board moved to suspend the medical practice licence of Nitschke:
The Board made the decision after considering a submission from Dr Nitschke, as part of the process of taking 'immediate action'. Section 156 of the National Law enables the Board to limit a practitioner's registration in some way to keep the public safe, while other investigations or processes continue.
The trigger at that time was an ABC 7:30 Report on the suicide death of Western Australian man, Nigel Brayley and the news that he had attended Exit workshops and imported Nembutal. It was asserted that Nitschke, in his contact with Brayley, had a duty to try to prevent Brayley from suicide; something that Nitschke rejected.
Nitschke appealed against the suspension firstly to the Appeals Tribunal and then to the Supreme Court in Darwin. Yesterday (7th of July) the judge found in his favour. The judgement was more about matters of procedural fairness and the judge's conclusion that the Medical Board had not presented sufficient evidence in a proper manner to support an immediate suspension of Nitschke's licence on public safety grounds (my summary).
Judge Hiley was asked to consider four grounds for appeal and found in favour of Nitschke in respect to the substantive claims as outlined above. However, he rejected Claim 3 which contented that the Tribunal based its conclusions in upholding the Medical Board's actions: "â€¦on facts for which there was no evidence including:
3.1 That Dr Nitschke had through his corporate entity supplied Mr Brayley with the Peaceful Pill handbook;
3.2 That Dr Nitschke had supplied or assisted Mr Brayley (sic) acquire and smuggle into Australia Nembutal;"
In regard to 3.1 that, 'Dr Nitschke had, through his corporate entity, supplied Mr Brayley with the Peaceful Pill Handbook', Judge Hiley said: 'I consider there was evidence from which the Tribunal was entitled to draw this inference.'
In regard to 3.2 that, '(t)he appellant had supplied or assisted Mr Brayley to acquire and smuggle Nembutal into Australia', Judge Hiley said: 'There was evidence to support that assumption.'
We cannot comment on what Judge Hiley's conclusions may or may not mean in terms of the ongoing Medical Board investigations nor any other possible actions. We simply do not know.
In its press statement, the medical board made reference to the 'other investigations and processes':
'Preparations continue for a hearing in the Northern Territory Health Professional Review Tribunal, into the Board's substantive case against Dr Nitschke. This hearing is currently scheduled for 16 November 2015.'
These 'investigations' relate to a known 12 'notifications' or complaints made to the Medical Board over the last three years and more; some in relation to the Brayley case.
Nitschke, in response to the judgement, launched a broadside:
'To date, the suspension of my medical registration has been characterized by politics and innuendo. Opponents of voluntary euthanasia have attempted to cause harm to my reputation and to damage the movement' he said.
'Today, the Court has tossed out the Medical Board's political persecution of me'.
Nitschke also said that he had 'no immediate plans to pay his medical registration fees' explaining that he has 'no need to be a registered doctor in order to be a comedian or run his pro-voluntary euthanasia organization'.
For more on this subject:
Australian Medical Association expels Nitschke
Dr Death still Mr Death after suspension appeal loss
Medical Board suspends Nitschke's licence to practice
Australian Suicide Prevention Organisation confirms medical board complaint against Nitschke
Three days in Darwin
Nitschke heads a suicide cult that must be stopped