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Andrew Smith, Australian correspondent

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Dr. Death Philip Nitschke faces loss of medical license after backlash

Andrew Smith, Australian correspondent

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Australia's own "Dr Death", Philip Nitschke, has been given just 48 hours to give reason as to why his medical registration should not be suspended by the Medical Board of Australia.  The board can limit a registration in order to keep the public safe as an interim measure while investigations or other processes continue.

While this is not without precedent, the “immediate action” interim step is still regarded as a very serious action that the board says requires a high threshold to invoke.

Under Australian federal laws, medical registration can be immediately suspended if it is deemed that it was improperly obtained, cancelled, or suspended in another jurisdiction, or “because of their conduct, performance or health, the practitioner poses a ‘serious risk to persons’ and that it is necessary to take immediate action to protect public health or safety.”

This latest development has come after public outcry over Nitschke's handling of enquiries from two individuals who were suffering depression and had clearly stated intentions to commit suicide in the immediate future. 

Nitschke’s failure to refer these cases to an appropriate mental health professional was condemned widely, including rebukes from anti-suicide groups such as Beyond Blue and the Black Dog Institute

Beyond Blue Chairman Jeff Kennett said Nitschke's actions were a gross breach of his Hippocratic Oath as a doctor.  “Equally unacceptable is Dr Nitschke's comment that he did not see it as part of his responsibility to refer the young man to an appropriate specialist for further treatment,” he said.

Kennett has since lodged his own complaint with the medical board.

Nitschke was also dropped at the last minute as a speaker at the Australian Medical Students’ Association national convention.  Nitschke has claimed that this was due to political pressure, but the student association has stressed their political neutrality and that the decision was made after discussion between the event team and their own board.

In his autobiography Damned If I Do, Nitschke lamented that it had been particularly difficult over the years when criticism of him came from pro-euthanasia groups.  These groups fear that his outspoken technology-driven approach to enabling the availability of euthanasia will derail their own efforts.

Dr. Rodney Syme from Dying With Dignity Victoria and national group YourLastRight called Nitschke “a maverick who's on the extreme end of the debate,” according to ABC.  Syme went on to emphasize that Nitschke has nothing to do with the legislative path for achieving euthanasia or assisted dying, and expressed concern that Dying With Dignity would be confused with Nitschke's Exit International.  “He is fundamentally not supported by the organisations who support Dying With Dignity,” Syme said.

Dr. Chris Ryan, who is on the board of Dying With Dignity New South Wales, stated on ABC Radio, “Dr Nitschke is not a psychiatrist and so he's not an expert in mental illness and I must say from the comments I've heard him make in the media, it sounds like he's really not an expert in capacity testing either.”  Ryan also distanced his group from Nitschke's efforts, doubting Nitschke's ability to assess someone via email.

Similarly, Dying With Dignity Queensland issued an email to their membership stating that they are not involved with the issue concerning Nitschke, and that they only aim to change the law to allow doctor-assisted suicide.  Nitschke was the guest speaker at their annual general meeting in August 2012.

Speaking at an already scheduled press conference today, Nitschke indicated that he plans to fight the proposed suspension.  He claims to be the victim of a biased story on the 7:30 Report and that he wasn't acting in a proper doctor-patient relationship when he gave advice.  After receiving the raw recording tapes from the interview, Nitschke will have 48 hours to plead his case to the medical board.

There are five complaints regarding Nitschke that are being investigated by the medical board, and there may be even more.

One of the complainants, Paul Russell from HOPE: No Euthanasia, welcomed the news today of this latest development.  He sees it as further vindication of his original concerns. “We believe that both the existence and methods of this clandestine death industry pose serious dangers to the public and to vulnerable people in particular,” he told LifeSiteNews.  Russell reiterated his call for a national inquiry into the activities of Exit and other organizations.

The 48-hour deadline is pending the completion of the full investigation, which is expected to encompass the substance of all the complaints to date.

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