Sunday, October 19, 2008

Dr Death descends on London

Philip Nitschke, the Australian euthanasia advocate affectionately known as Dr Death, has been marketing suicide in London this week. He promotes the use of lethal drugs or an 'exit bag' and is particularly keen to market the online version of his suicide handbook - banned in his native country, but he is probably right in thinking he will meet less resistance to his antics in the UK.

Refreshingly, there has been something of an uproar following the appearance of this death salesman, with Bournemouth council refusing him permission to use their premises for his planned meeting and even the erroneously-named Dignity in Dying (known to most of us as the Voluntary Euthanasia Society) has distanced itself from Nitschke's approach. Not sure why the VES should feel so squeamish, they are very much on the same side but Dr Death has the embarrassing tendency to show up euthanasia for the squalid, heartless activity it actually is. Frankly, dying of suffocation with a plastic bag over your head just doesn't sound terribly dignified.

The Guardian article (weirdly listed under 'human rights' and 'health') emphasised that Dr Death's audience was made up of over-50s, but what worries me most about the sort of online suicide advice Nitschke is providing, is that it can be read by absolutely anyone; the mentally ill, teenagers, even children. With Britain doing so much to try to curb its shocking suicide rate - particularly among young men - the authorities need to take the law seriously and close down websites that positively encourage vulnerable people to end their lives. Limiting the number of aspirins that can be sold and placing nets under suspension bridges are necessary and laudable safeguards, but they will have little effect on the suicide rate if those who cynically promote suicide are not called to account.