Australia’s infamous promoter of assisted suicide, Dr Philip Nitschke has been at it again this week, and he has the lives of people with disabilities in his sites.
Dr Nitschke wants to import the American drug, Nembutal, doubtless with the intent of letting six people take it to end their lives. Some of these have Motor Neurone disease, others cancer. Although the media has reported that all are expected to die within months, such diagnoses have sometimes proved wrong, and without specific, expert information at hand, it is difficult to test their accuracy.
Dr Nitschke isn’t admitting that he wants his “patients” to die. In the current instance he is saying that the patients will “benefit” from knowing that Nembutal is at hand to be used as a “sedative”. Indeed, that was its original use in the 1950’s, but it is now used to deliberately cause death in Switzerland and the Netherlands. This seems different from the doctor’s usual talk, that the drug is used as a poison to induce death.
He appears to have entered the murky realm of “terminal sedation”, a legitimate method of keeping terminally-ill patients asleep during phases of their lives, in order to perform medical procedures. The technique can be – and has been – abused to deliberately hasten death, that is, a substitute for euthanasia. The same can be said if the intention of administering Nembutal is to provide “peace of mind”, a very nebulous term.
I am not a palliative care expert, but there must surely be other, legally available drugs that would alleviate patients’ physical pain to a sufficient degree.
In March, Customs and Border Protection ruled that doctors could apply to import Nembutal on behalf of their patients.
Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration is yet to rule on whether or not the proposed importation on Nembutal will be allowed. Dr Nitschke is pessimistic about this. We hope is pessimism is warranted.