'Doctor Death' to teach Australians how to make their own suicide pills

London Telegraph | January 24, 2005
By Anna Gizowska


       A controversial euthanasia campaigner nicknamed Dr Death is to run suicide seminars in Australia where people will learn how to make their own "death tablet''.

Dr Philip Nitschke says that the so-called Peanut Pill - named after a slang term for barbiturates - will be "more reliable and far more effective'' than other methods of suicide.

He claims that the tablet will be more advanced than his previous Peaceful Pill, made from modified alcohol and nicotine.

Dr Nitschke, 57, the director of Exit International. Australia's voluntary euthanasia organization, said that 30 of his 3,000 members will meet at a secret location in the Australian outback to work on the deadly recipe later this year.

At the end of the weekend workshop, each will leave with a 10g "death pill'' that they have made themselves. Excess chemical material will be destroyed and their temporary laboratory dismantled.

Assisting a suicide is a crime in all Australian states, carrying a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Dr Nitschke, however, said: "Suicide is legal so long as people design and make their own devices. They are not breaking the law.''

The doctor has previously invented a "death machine'' made from common household objects, which delivered fatal amounts of carbon monoxide.

In 2002, he also unveiled the Exit Bag - a specially-designed plastic bag with an elasticated opening. It created an airtight seal around the neck to suffocate users, who would have taken a sleeping pill.

Every year, about 2,400 Australians commit suicide and Dr Nitschke claims that most resort to hanging themselves rather than a slow death. "Information should be made available so that these people do not suffer inhumanely,'' he said.

The Exit Bag he said, was "a bit grim but simple". He said: "Helium inside the bag sped up the process but visually it was very disturbing. Nobody comes along and says, 'I want to put a plastic bag over my head.' ''

Caren Jenning, 72, is among those anticipating a "peaceful and dignified departure'' after using Dr Nitschke's lethal Death Tablet recipe. "I should have the right to die when and how I want to,'' said Miss Jennings, from Sydney, who is in remission after undergoing two operations for breast cancer.

She said: "I just want something simple that I can put in the cupboard and forget about until the time is right. I saw my mother suffer horribly. I'm not going to go the same way."

Dr Nitschke's plans, however, were attacked by pro-life campaigners. Mary Joseph, a spokesman for the Australian Federation of Right to Life Associations, said: "Producing a DIY suicide pill is grossly irresponsible and would put suicidal people at risk." David Cotton, a spokesman for Right to Life in New South Wales, said: "If Dr Nitschke is to be stopped before the corpses pile up any higher, we may need an amendment to the criminal law."

The controversy in Australia over both euthanasia and so-called mercy killings has raged since the mid-1990s, when for a brief period, doctor-assisted deaths were legalized in the Northern Territory.

Dr Nitschke helped four people to die before the federal government, led by the prime minister, John Howard, revoked the measure after a 38-33 vote in the

senate. The Howard government is planning to re-introduce a bill that makes it a crime to possess any type of information about euthanasia regardless of whether it is acted upon.

The bill would make it illegal to use the internet to view, copy, download or transmit "suicide promotion material," incurring fines of up to 48,000. "This means all manner of end-of-life choices information will shortly be prohibited in Australia," said Dr Nitschke. It would "put Australia back into the dark ages."