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Breaking the law for a certain end

By Philip Nitschke - posted Thursday, 29 May 2014

This week will see the first case of the state prosecuting an elderly Exit member simply because he had the good sense to plan ahead; to put a safety net in place, just in case his health deteriorated. At 10am on Thursday 29th, 68 year old pensioner Rupert Ward will front the Albany magistrates court in West Australia, charged with being in possession of a prohibited substance, namely the euthanasia drug Nembutal.

In the past month, Rupert, along with 11 other Exit members in three states, has been visited by State police, acting, they say, in collaboration with the Federal police. They claim they have 'reasonable grounds of suspicion' that lethal drugs from China, or Mexico have been imported and that they are concerned for 'the person's welfare', but the problem is, the treasured euthanasia drug, Nembutal, is prohibited. Its importation, even for personal use, is a serious crime. At least that's what the Misuse of Drugs Act says.

We don't know whose email or bank accounts are being monitored, and what is driving this new enthusiasm on the part of law enforcement officers, but we do know this has spread alarm and concern through the Exit community. Where many of our members, frustrated by the glacial pace of legislative change in euthanasia laws, have elected instead to prepare their own end of life plan, just in case.


Perhaps this 'welfare check' is part of the new community policing strategy we hear so much about. Maybe this new-found concern is grounded in mental health community care? Who would know.

What we do know is that these mentally well, although aged, members of Exit are currently undergoing police scrutiny like never before. We know also that it's not nice.

So why are these hitherto law-abiding elderly citizens delving into this life of crime you say?

While the evidence may be anecdotal, the verdict is increasingly clear. Having lethal drugs locked away safely in your medicine cabinet helps you live out your later years with peace of mind and security. You know you are back in control. No lying in hospital so out of it on drugs that you are stripped bare of what remains of your dignity. You want to die at home, surrounded by your loved ones and when you, not your doctor says? I bet the majority of Australians want the same.

And this is the reason why the importation of Nembutal has become so popular amongst the elderly. Their contempt for the politicians becomes clear. With 86 percent of the Australian community supporting voluntary euthanasia, what is stopping the politicians from doing what our taxes pay them to do?

Here we have even seen the WA Parliament in the ridiculous position of recently debating legislation not to legislate! Upset by Belgium's enlightened steps to extend their euthanasia laws to children has thrown the politicians of the West into a tailspin, seeking to outlaw any possibility of changing current legislation that makes assisting a suicide, for whatever reason, a crime


And this is the sort of contingency that the twelve Exit Members who had their homes raided in the past month are hoping to avoid. They want an exit plan in place that doesn't depend on the assistance of others. And they are certainly not members of the community 'in need of protection'.

Understandably impatient with the current younger generation of politicians who fail to understand what it's like to get old (and sick), these elderly folk are planning for their futures while they are still able.

Just because they are importing their lethal drugs, doesn't mean they will take them. It simply means they will stash them away, hoping they will never use them but drawing immense comfort from knowing they are there. Just in case. What is so hard to understand?

Yes they know they have broken the law, probably for the first time ever. Yes they know they are naughty. But in most states of Australia, police discretion to lay charges turns on two factors. First there must be sufficient evidence, second the charge must be in the public interest.

I invite the State and Federal police to explain. How is putting 70 year old first time offenders on trial for importing a single 10gm dose of Nembutal, in the public interest? Perhaps I'm missing something, but it smells very odd to me.

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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

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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