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Planning for our failing.

By Philip Nitschke - posted Thursday, 19 May 2011

Sometimes I wonder if I should ever raise my head above the parapet. Some days it feels like new ideas are simply too hard. The publicity surrounding my most recent plans to establish voluntary euthanasia consulting clinics in Adelaide and Hobart ahead of likely pending legislation, has clearly raised more questions than I have been able to answer. So let's clear the air.

In the words of the American Distinguished History Professor David Thelen, 'the challenge of history is to recover the past and introduce it to the present'. So, too, the idea of an Exit Clinic.

Back in 1999 when I first floated the idea of a specialized clinic, I was threatened with deregistration by the Australian Medical Association. In apparent unison, Right to Life Australia announced I would be "thumbing [my] nose at the law on homicide". Like so many politicians before and after him, then Premier of Victoria Jeff Kennett, simply ran for cover.


Back then, only those involved in the voluntary euthanasia movement supported my idea. My, how things have changed.

Today, it is not only VE advocates who support the idea of a clinic it seems the general public are largely in concordance. Recent polls have shown community support for a service which coordinates the professionals and support services required for the successful introduction of an assisted suicide law.

The courage of South Australian politicians such as Labor's Steph Key and her Tasmania counterparts such as Green's leader, Nick McKim and Labor premier Lara Giddings shows that the issue of end of life choices is very much alive. Of course, I have long known this as I have watched attendance numbers at my meetings and seminars rise steadily over the past decade.

While the well elderly are ever-content to come along and learn how to die reliably and peacefully (just in case), self-help knowledge cannot always be a replacement for a strong legislative framework. This is because assistance will always be needed by a small minority of folk, regardless of their age.

There will always be people for whom illness brings utter incapacity and devastation. Whether it is a long, drawn-out, degenerative disease such as MS or an acute bout of terminal cancer, none of us knows what is around the corner and the best laid plans can and do go ary.

For these people, good end of life legislation is a must. It should be their human right not to suffer more than is necessary. While some may believe that the final moments of life offer a redemptive satisfaction ­ one gets closer to God ­ for the vast majority of secular Australia, dying before one's time is nothing short of tragic.


No one wants to die before their time has come. However, given that some of us will have our lives cut short, surely choosing how we die is the next best thing.

This is why voluntary Exit Clinics will be essential once a law is passed. It will be essential in order to ensure that patients know what is involved. No use putting your hand up to die only to be told that you don't fit the bill ­ at least not the one passed by your elected representatives up on the hill.

I know this because this is what happened to Broken Hill taxi driver, Max Bell, when he drove up to Darwin immediately after the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act came into force back in 1996.

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About the Author

Dr Philip Nitschke is director of EXIT(Australia). He assisted four patients to die under the short lived NT voluntary euthanasia legislation. Today, he is director of Exit International.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Philip Nitschke
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Exit International

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