This weekend yet another story of 'death coaching' in The Australian by journalist, Angela Shanahan.
Shanahan opens her article by reminding readers fo the suicide of Nancy Crick in Australia in 2002; how her death burst the bubble of 'for terminally ill people only' myth and how her family and friends (21 of them) being present at her death was a challenge to the authorities. Ultimately, no charges were laid. Nitschke must have thought himself and his organisation as 'bullet proof' and on the path to the crumbling of the prohibitions on assisted suicide.
Shanahan then introduces us to yet another 'Exit death'and yet another family devastated in the wake:
Lately, Nitschke and his followers in Exit have always been very careful to try to minimise their personal involvement in these deaths through the internet. However, there have been deaths where it was clear the victims were not terminally ill, such as Crick's, and that someone other than the victim was present. But the police have ignored them. This is especially so in the cases of elderly lonely people, particularly women.
One such tragedy was the death of Irene Lindberg, who, according to the police, asphyxiated herself in Cairns in 2005. She was typical of the profile of one of Nitschke's followers. She was 78, divorced many years, lived alone and had a history of depression.
However, Irene's daughter Marie Gleeson was in contact with her mother, and worried about her behaviour towards the end of her life. Marie was furious her mother's death seems to have been dismissed as yet another "Nitschke suicide". For nine years Gleeson has been trying to get the police to acknowledge that her mother's death was not simply suicide, but the result of suicide coaching.
She died with a copy of a suicide manual, a plastic bag on her head, and helium gas canisters were later found by her daughter in the house - with the hoses neatly rolled. The helium method is difficult to detect, although that is not really important to the victim. Nitschke was caught importing nitrogen gas canisters in 2012.
This story has sinister implications. According to Gleeson, who has attended one of his workshops, Nitschke has set up a group called Nancy's Friends for people "on the journey". After being checked by an Exit nurse, one is assigned a "friend", a euphemism for a death companion. In fact, according to Gleeson, Nitschke warns against having family present who may not be sympathetic to assisted suicide - and may try to talk the victim out of it. According to Gleeson, her mother had attended Nitschke's workshops.
Shanahan then contrasts the seeming lack of Police action in that instance with the direct response to the suicide death of Max Bromson in Adelaide last Monday. The family have been questioned and, yesterday, Nitschke was also questioned and the Police raided Exit's premises and confiscated phones, computers etc.
The continuing revelations about Nitschke might have finally caused some action from the police. According to a statement from Nitschke on Wednesday, the police have been "heavy-handed" on Bromson's death. However, Nitschke seems to have overdone it. In his press release he says Bromson joined the "Exit International Buyers Club" to purchase Chinese Nembutal. What is this? Some kind of bulk purchase arrangement for Nembutal?
This latest death makes one wonder even more about Nitschke. He should have known that there would be a reactive backlash to the revelations last week. So, one can only conclude he did indeed anticipate this, but let the situation run for the sake of publicity, a fairly grim commentary on this "compassionate" campaigner.
As for police actions, while coming rather late in the day for bereaved relatives such as Gleeson, at least police are not dismissing these deaths as they have been. But more police investigation is needed into the "messiah of death" and his movement. And perhaps the advocates of "regulated" assisted suicide might have pause.
Shanahan closes by belling the cat: There is a parallel between Nitschke, Exit and legal euthanasia:
End-of-life issues deserve sober ethical investigation. But although we talk about "regulation" today, the current failure of the police to act even when this is illegal makes one wonder how regulated assisted suicide can ever be. We should heed the experience of The Netherlands, where the number and irregularity of deaths has caused the chief regulator, Theo Boer, to say before the vote in the British House of Lords that he wished it had never been legalised.
Nitschke might seem an extreme advocate of assisted suicide today, but in a world where active euthanasia is acceptable, the risk is that Nitschke might be the future.
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