By Tim Waggoner

SYDNEY, June 20, 2008 ( – Euthanasia provider and activist Dr. Philip Nitschke has released controversial statements that essentially instruct anyone who believes they are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease to avoid obtaining a diagnosis in favour of seeking a doctor who can help them commit suicide as quickly as possible.  These comments come on the heels of yesterday’s New South Wales jury ruling that convicted two women for the “euthanasia” death of a 71-year old Sydney man, Graeme Wylie, in 2006.

As reported by the news service, The Age, Shirley Justins, the wife of Wylie, was convicted of manslaughter for giving him a suicide drug, and Caren Jenning, who journeyed to Mexico to purchase the lethal drug, Nembutal, was convicted as an accessory to manslaughter.  Both women, who claimed Wylie wanted to die this way, face up to 25 years in prison and will likely receive their sentences in November.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the trial centred on whether or not Wylie had the mental capacity to choose to be euthanized.  Considering that just four months before his death, the husband and father could not recall his birthday or how many children he had and what sex they were, the jury decided Wylie was not able to choose suicide, and therefore convicted Justins and Jenning with manslaughter.

The court also brought to light the fact that Wiley’s will was changed just one week before his death.  The new terms stipulated that Jenkins was to receive all but $200,000 of the $2.4 million dollar estate; over double the amount she was to originally receive.

Dr. Nitschke, however, opposed the jury’s decision, saying, “Many people said this person [Wylie] knew what he was doing. I thought he knew what he was doing. Yet they base it on the medical evidence that he had lost his ability to make a decision, that he had lost his ability to say whether he could die or not.”

Dr. Nitschke, who heads the assisted suicide organization, Exit International, also said the ruling sends a “dreadful message” to Alzheimer’s patients, and urged those suffering from the disease to avoid a doctor’s diagnosis and seek assisted suicide as quick as possible in order to protect one’s family from similar legal battles.

“Don’t go to your doctor. Don’t have the tests done. And if you do have the tests done that show that you’re starting to lose mental capacity, make sure it is not recorded,” said the doctor, indicating that those who contact Exit International would be receiving the same message.

“We’ll be advising people not to (declare they have Alzheimer’s),” he said.

“A person with Alzheimer’s disease, means that they may have to move more quickly, and end their lives more quickly before this whole issue of capacity to make a decision comes to the fore,” he finished.

The jury’s decision and Dr. Nitschke’s comments have sparked commentary from several professionals in related fields.

In a interview, Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, applauded the jury’s decision, given the fact that a Swiss euthanasia centre refused to assist in Wylie’s suicide because of his increasing dementia.  The Swiss centre made this decision despite advice from Dr. Nitschke, who advised them to go ahead with the assisted-suicide after he had made an “assessment” of Wylie’s condition.

“The fact is the man was incapable to make these decisions, and they were made on his behalf and it was done against the wishes of his children. One of his daughters in particular was very upset,” explained Schadenberg.

He then addressed the shocking statement issued to Alzheimer patients by Dr. Nitschke.

“Dr. Nitschke is hell bent on death,” said Schadenberg.

“You have to put this into context.  He was the one who told the National Review that the peaceful pill [a suicide pill] should be available to troubled teens.”

Schadenberg then commented on the “bigger picture”, explaining how Dr. Nitschke is not just fighting for a terminally ill patient’s right to assisted suicide, but for “anyone’s right to die.”

“He sees suicide as a human right.  It is not about the right to die of terminally ill people.  It is about what they would call the human right to die.  The right for anyone to die at the time of their choosing,” he concluded.

Glenn Rees from Alzheimer’s Australia said Dr. Nitschke’s counsel was “worrying on many levels”.

“Diagnosis is vital for people with dementia, so they can get all the support they need to avoid depression and the things that might lead to this (euthanasia), so it’s ridiculous to say they shouldn’t get it,” explained Mr. Rees.

Rees finished by asserting that, “The last thing they should be doing is running away from a diagnosis.”

University of New South Wales psychiatry professor Brian Draper, alluded to the fact that many Alzheimer’s patients can enjoy their lives, saying Dr. Nitschke demonstrated “incredible ignorance” of Alzheimer disease.


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