Philip Nitschke

Philip Nitschke
Philip Nitschke

Dr Philip Nitschke (2009)
Born 8 August 1947 (1947-08-08) (age 64)
South Australia, Australia
Education University of Adelaide (B.Sc.), Flinders University (Ph.D.), Sydney University (M.B.B.S.)
Years active 1988 to present
Known for Influencing euthanasia debate worldwide
Profession Physician and author
Specialism Euthanasia Medicine
Research Euthanasia and Painless Death
Notable prizes

Dr. Philip Nitschke (play /ˈnɪkɪ/; born 8 August 1947) is an Australian medical doctor, humanist, author and founder and director of the pro-euthanasia group Exit International. He campaigned successfully to have a legal euthanasia law passed in Australia's Northern Territory and assisted four people in ending their lives before the law was overturned by the Federal government. Nitschke says he was the first doctor in the world to administer a legal, voluntary, lethal injection.[1] Nitschke has complained that he and his group are regularly subject to harassment by authorities[2][3][4] and has written on his personal mixed feelings on assisted suicide and the influence of religion on opposition to it.[5]



Born in 1947 in rural South Australia, Nitschke studied physics at the University of Adelaide, gaining a PhD from Flinders University in laser physics in 1972. Rejecting a career in the sciences, he instead travelled to the Northern Territory to take up work with the Aboriginal land rights activist, Vincent Lingiari and the Gurindji at Wave Hill.

After the hand-back of land by then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, Nitschke became a Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife ranger. However, a serious accident to his foot saw him return to university, graduating from Sydney University Medical School in 1988.

Since assisting four people in ending their lives, Nitschke has provided advice to others who have ended their lives, mostly notably Nancy Crick, aged 69. On 22 May 2002, Crick, with over 20 friends and family (but not Nitschke) present, took a lethal dose of barbiturates, went quickly to sleep, and died within twenty minutes. Nitschke had encouraged Nancy Crick to enter palliative care, which she did for a number of days before returning home again. She had undergone multiple surgeries to treat bowel cancer, and was left with multiple, dense, inoperable[6] bowel adhesions that left her in constant pain and diarrhoea and tied to the toilet, but she was not terminally ill at the time of her death.[7][8] Dr Nitschke said the scar tissue from previous cancer surgery had caused her suffering. "She didn't actually want to die when she had cancer. She wanted to die after she had cancer treatment," he said.[8]

A 2004 documentary film, Mademoiselle and the Doctor,[9] focused on the quest of a retired Perth professor, Lisette Nigot, a healthy 79-year-old, to seek a successful method of voluntary euthanasia. She sought advice from Nitschke. Nigot took an overdose of medication that she had bought in the United States and died, just before her 80th birthday.[10] In a note to Dr Nitschke, thanking him for his support, she described him as a crusader working for a worthwhile humane cause. "After 80 years of a good life, I have [had] enough of it," she wrote. "I want to stop it before it gets bad."

Nitschke made headlines in New Zealand when he announced plans to accompany eight New Zealanders to Mexico where the drug Nembutal, capable of producing a fatal overdose, can be purchased legally.[11] He also made headlines, even angering some fellow right-to-die advocates, when he presented his plan to launch a "death ship" that would have allowed him to circumvent local laws by euthanising people from around the world in international waters.[12]

In the 2007 Australian federal election, Dr. Nitschke ran against the Australian politician Kevin Andrews in the Victorian seat of Menzies but was unsuccessful.[13]

On 2 May 2009 Nitschke was detained for nine hours by British Immigration officials at Heathrow Airport after arriving for a visit to the UK to lecture on voluntary euthanasia and end-of-life choices. Dr Nitschke said it was a matter of free speech and that his detention said something about changes to British society which were "quite troubling".[14] Nitschke was told that he and his wife were detained because the workshops may contravene British law.[14] However, although assisting someone to commit suicide in the UK was illegal, the law did not apply to a person lecturing on the concept of euthanasia, and Nitschke was allowed to enter. Dame Joan Bakewell, the British Government's "Voice of Older People", said the current British law on assisted suicide was "a mess" and that Nitschke should have been made more welcome in the UK.[15]

In 2009 Nitschke helped to promote Dignified Departure, a 13-hour, pay-television program on doctor-assisted suicide in Hong Kong and mainland China. The program aired in October in China on the Family Health channel, run by the official China National Radio.[16]

Views on euthanasia

Dying with dignity

On 29 April 2009, Nitschke said: "It seems we demand humans to live with indignity, pain and anguish whereas we are kinder to our pets when their suffering becomes too much. It simply is not logical or mature. Trouble is, we have had too many centuries of religious claptrap."[17] He works mainly with older people from whom he gains inspiration, saying: "You get quite inspired and uplifted by the elderly folk who see this as quite a practical approach".[18]

In July 2009, Nitschke said he no longer believed voluntary euthanasia should only be available to the terminally ill, but that elderly people afraid of getting old and incapacitated should also have a choice.[19]

Palliative care

Palliative care specialists claim that many requests for euthanasia arise from fear of physical or psychological distress in the patient’s last days, and that widespread and equitable availability of specialist palliative care services will reduce requests for euthanasia. Nitschke is dismissive of this argument. "We have too many people who have the best palliative care in the world and they still want to know that they can put an end to things," he said.[20] "By and large, palliative care have done pretty well out of the argument over the euthanasia issue, because they are the ones that have argued that they just need better funding and then no one will ever want to die – that’s a lie."

Younger people and suicide

Australian statistics published in The Age revealed that people in their 20s, 30s and 40s have died from overdosing on Nembutal,[21] the drug that Nitschke recommends for dying by suicide. Some of these people had terminal illnesses and learned about Nembutal from Exit International. Nitschke responded that his organization has made every attempt to filter to whom they provide information, but that he accepts that despite the disclaimer on the Peaceful Pill website, anyone, including depressed teenagers, could access the information. He said this is the risk Exit International has taken to help vast numbers of elderly and seriously ill people.[22]

"There will be some casualties when you put this information out there, and these are casualties which are tragic ... but this has to be balanced with the growing pool of older people who feel immense wellbeing from having access to this information", Nitschke said.

The right to control one's own death

Nitschke believes that the right to control one’s death is as fundamental as the right to control one’s life.[20]


Killing Me Softly

Killing Me Softly: Voluntary Euthanasia And The Road To The Peaceful Pill was published in 2005. This book explains the philosophy behind Nitschke's work at Exit International. Part biography, part political call to arms, Killing Me Softly documents the events around the world's first right-to-die law and provides analysis of the medico-legal model behind the voluntary euthanasia debate. It also discusses how a "peaceful pill" would revolutionise voluntary euthanasia in the same way the contraceptive pill transformed birth control.

The Peaceful Pill Handbook

In January 2007, he published the controversial book The Peaceful Pill Handbook, which was prohibited by Australian federal censorship regulator, the Office of Film and Literature Classification at the end of February 2007.[23] The book was banned in New Zealand on 8 June 2007 by the New Zealand Office of Film and Literature Classification, not because it advocates for euthanasia, but because it gives instructions on drug manufacture and other acts deemed criminal.[24] In May 2008, it was allowed for sale in New Zealand if sealed and an indication of the censorship classification was displayed.[25]

Australian censorship


On 22 May 2009 it was disclosed in the press, citing, that the Australian Government had added the online Peaceful Pill Handbook (hosted at [2] ) to the blacklist maintained by the Australian Communications and Media Authority used to filter internet access to citizens of Australia.[26] Australian Communications Minister Stephen Conroy plans to introduce legislation just before the 2010 election to make internet service providers block a blacklist of "refused classification" websites. The blacklist is expected to include Exit's websites and other similar sites. Nitschke said the proposals were the "final nail in the coffin for euthanasia advocacy" in Australia, where people are banned from discussing end-of-life issues over the phone, buying books about it or importing printed material on it. "The one avenue we had open to us was the internet, and now it looks like it will be part of Conroy's grand plan to provide a so-called clean feed to Australia. It's outrageous."[27]

In April 2010, Nitschke began holding a series of "Hacking Masterclasses" to teach people how to circumvent the Australian internet filter.[28] Access to Nitschke's online Peaceful Pill Handbook was blocked during trials of the government's filter. A government spokeswoman said euthanasia would not be targeted by the proposed filter,[28] but confirmed that "The (website) ... for accessing an electronic version of the [Peaceful Pill Handbook] was classified as refused classification" because it provided detailed instruction in "crimes relating to the possession, manufacture and importation of barbiturates".

Nitschke said Exit International would investigate if it could set up its own proxy server or VPN tunnel, so its members had a safe way of accessing its information.[29]


On 10 September 2010, Dr Nitschke complained that the Commercials Advice self-regulator of advertising content on Australian commercial television had prevented the television screening of a paid advertisement from Exit International in which an actor depicted a dying man who requested the option of voluntary euthanasia. Commercials Advice reportedly cited Section 2.17.5 of the Commercial Television Code of Practice: Suicide. The advertisement was felt to condone the practice of suicide. Dr Nitschke responded that the acts of Commercials Advice constitute interference with the right to free speech. Similar TV commercials, planned for use during Nitschke's Canadian lecture tour of 2010, were likewise banned by the Television Bureau of Canada, after lobbying by anti-euthanasia pressure groups.[30]


Australia's first pro-voluntary euthanasia billboard, on the Hume Highway in western Sydney

In 2010, Nitschke planned to use billboards in Australia to feature the message "85 per cent of Australians support voluntary euthanasia but our government won't listen". In September 2010, Nitschke's billboard advertising campaign was blocked by Billboards Australia.[31] Billboards Australia cited section of the NSW Crimes Act that outlaws the aiding or abetting of suicide or attempted suicide. Nitschke was told to provide legal advice outlining how his billboard did not break this law, a request Nitschke described as "ludicrous", pointing out that the billboards urge "political change and in no way could be considered to be in breach of the crimes act".[31] Dr Nitschke said he had sought a legal opinion from prominent human rights lawyer Greg Barns.[31] The lawyer was able to convince Billboards Australia to rescind its ruling, in part.[32]

Exit bag and CoGen

Nitschke created devices to aid people who want euthanasia, including a product called the "exit bag" (a large plastic bag with a drawstring allowing it to be secured around the neck) and the "CoGen" (or "Co-Genie") device. Used together, the CoGen device generates the deadly gas carbon monoxide, which is inhaled with the "exit bag."[33]

Nitschke later abandoned methods using carbon monoxide as complex, unreliable and toxic to bystanders.

Euthanasia device

In December 2008 Dr Nitschke released details of a euthanasia machine to the media. He called it "flawless" and "undetectable", saying the new process uses ordinary household products including a barbecue gas bottle — available from hardware stores — filled with nitrogen.[34] Dr Nitschke developed a process in which patients lose consciousness immediately and die a few minutes later.

Nitschke said: "So it's extremely quick and there are no drugs. Importantly this doesn't fail – it's reliable, peaceful, available and with the additional benefit of undetectability."[35]

Barbiturate testing kit

In 2009 Dr. Nitschke made a barbiturate testing kit available, initially launched in the UK,[36] then Australia.[37] Nitschke said the kit was made available by Exit International in response to growing demand for something to test the Nembutal obtained from Mexico, often delivered in the post without labels. "They want to be sure they have the right concentration," Nitschke said. The kits have chemicals that change colour when mixed with Nembutal. He was detained for an hour for questioning on arrival at Auckland Airport in New Zealand on a trip to hold public meetings and launch the kit.[38]

Pentobarbital long-storage pill

In October 2009, Nitschke announced his intention to inform people at his workshops where to obtain a long-storage form of sodium pentobarbital (Nembutal) that manufacturers say can be stored for up to fifty years without degrading.[39] Liquid forms of pentobarbital degrade within a few years, while the solid form (a white, crystalline powder) does not. Nitschke intends to advise people on how to reconstitute the pill into liquid form for ingestion if and when it ever becomes appropriate. He said that he sees it as a way of keeping people accurately informed and allowing them to make viable choices. The provision of this information would be consistent with good medical care, in his view.[39]

Awards and recognition

See also


  1. ^ "Dr Death says Britain ignoring end-of-life needs". 7 May 2009. Retrieved 8 May 2009. 
  2. ^ "Euthenasia group raided over suicide". Retrieved 9 December 2009. 
  3. ^ "Euthanasia group quizzed over death - Local News - News - General - The Canberra Times". Retrieved 30 November 2009. 
  4. ^ "The World Today - Exit members threatened by raids: Nitschke 13/11/2009". Retrieved 30 November 2009. 
  5. ^ Atheism and Euthanasia. pp 193-200 in Bonett, Warren (Editor). 2010. The Australian Book of Atheism. Melbourne, Vic: Scribe [1]
  6. ^ "Radio National Breakfast - 27 May 2002 - Nancy Crick's Cancer". Retrieved 11 October 2009. 
  7. ^ "Spotlight shifted onto Crick doctor -". 30 May 2002. Retrieved 24 May 2009. 
  8. ^ a b Paget, Dale (8 June 2004). "Crick had no cancer: report - National -". Melbourne: Retrieved 11 October 2009. 
  9. ^ "Mademoiselle and the Doctor". Australian Screen. 2004. 
  10. ^ "Healthy woman thanks Dr Nitschke, then kills herself -". Retrieved 11 October 2009. 
  11. ^ "NZ offered Mexican Suicide Drug Trip". The Age (Melbourne). 6 February 2007. 
  12. ^ " - Update - 2000, Number 2". Retrieved 19 December 2008. 
  13. ^ "Election results for the seat of Menzies (Australian Electoral Commission)". 26 November 2007. 
  14. ^ a b "BBC NEWS - Euthanasia doctor held at airport". 2 May 2009. Retrieved 2 May 2009. 
  15. ^ "Welcome Dr Death, says ’spokesman’ for elderly". Retrieved 16 May 2009. 
  16. ^ "‘Dr. Death’ Nitschke Sells Euthanasia to China Before TV Show -". Retrieved 16 September 2009. 
  17. ^ "The Press Association: 'Dr Death' to show DIY suicide kit". Retrieved 30 April 2009. 
  18. ^ Saffron Howden (July 2009). "His choice to live or die". Lismore Northern Star. Retrieved 2 July 2009. 
  19. ^ "Give all elderly the right to die - Nitschke". News Corp.. 8 July 2009.,27574,25754012-29277,00.html. Retrieved 8 July 2009. 
  20. ^ a b "Irish Medical Times". Retrieved 30 March 2010. 
  21. ^ Jenkins, Melissa (15 February 2010). "Young Aussies 'told of euthanasia pill'". Melbourne: Retrieved 16 February 2010. 
  22. ^ Medew, Julia (15 February 2010). "The death trap". Melbourne: Retrieved 16 February 2010. 
  23. ^ "The Peaceful Pill Handbook Refused Classification upon review" (pdf). Classification Review Board. 24 February 2007. pp. 1. Retrieved 4 May 2007. 
  24. ^ "The Peaceful Pill Handbook Banned". OFLC. 10 June 2007. Retrieved 28 January 2008. [dead link]
  25. ^ Office of Film & Literature Classification decision
  26. ^ Duffy, Michael (22 May 2009). "Web filtering pulls plug on euthanasia debate". Retrieved 22 May 2009. 
  27. ^ Moses, Asher (16 December 2009). "Internet Filtering". Melbourne: Retrieved 16 December 2009. 
  28. ^ a b Bennett, Cortlan (4 April 2010). "Euthanasia workshops 'to fight filter'". Retrieved 5 April 2010. 
  29. ^ Jacobsen, Geesche (6 April 2010). "Elderly learn to beat euthanasia firewall". Retrieved 6 April 2010. 
  30. ^ "Ad campaign for assisted suicide banned from Canadian airwaves - The Globe and Mail". Toronto: Retrieved 28 September 2010. 
  31. ^ a b c Rose, Danny (15 September 2010). "Another blow for euthanasia campaign". Retrieved 16 September 2010. 
  32. ^ "Euthanasia billboard approved". 4 October 2010. Retrieved 4 October 2010. 
  33. ^ "Nitschke launches suicide machine -". 3 December 2002. Retrieved 19 December 2008. 
  34. ^ Wheatley, Kim. "AdelaideNow... Dr Philip Nitschke launches 'flawless' euthanasia device".,22606,24816520-5006301,00.html. Retrieved 18 December 2008. [dead link]
  35. ^ Wheatley, Kim (18 December 2008). "Doctor Philip Nitschke to launch 'undetectable' death machine". The Australian.
  36. ^ Doward, Jamie (29 March 2009). "'Dr Death' sells euthanasia kits in UK for £35". London: Retrieved 31 May 2009. 
  37. ^ "Nitschke unveils new euthanasia aid - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)". Retrieved 19 June 2009. 
  38. ^ "Nitschke held over drug kits in NZ". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. July 2009. Retrieved 22 July 2009. 
  39. ^ a b "Nitschke to promote illegal pill - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)". Retrieved 30 October 2009. 

External links

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