In a widely hailed move, the Medical Board of Australia has used their emergency powers to suspend the medical registration of euthanasia advocate Dr. Philip Nitschke. In doing so, the Board has deemed Nitschke to be a 'serious risk to persons' such that it is necessary to take immediate action to protect the health and safety of the public.
The suspension applies until the conclusion of investigations into all complaints that have been lodged against Nitschke.
The Board had given Nitschke 48 hours to give reason as to why his registration should not be suspended. In response, Nitschke's lawyers generated an 18-page response document which the Board reviewed when they met on Wednesday night.
According to Nitschke, the letter he received back notifying him of the suspension stated that his view “that people have a right to choose suicide is incompatible with modern medicine.”
News of Nitschke's suspension has been welcomed by the Australian Medical Association. According to Dr. Andrew Miller, doctors have been “very disturbed for a long time” with what Nitschke has been doing. “We feel that he's basically a poisonous snake oil salesman and it's time he was taken off the streets,” Miller said.
This is in complete contrast to the Australian Medical Association's attack on the Board over Nitschke less than two years ago, when they questioned the Board’s ability to investigate a practitioner for activities outside his professional work as a doctor. The AMA had even suggested funding Dr. Nitschke’s defence themselves. (Nitschke's medical insurance has a specific disclaimer stating that there is no cover for expenses arising from his pro-euthanasia activities.)
The decision was also welcomed by friends of Perth man Nigel Brayley who only discovered the involvement of Nitschke and Exit International after Brayley's suicide. Kerry and Trish O'Neill don't believe the Board had any other choice, and that they are compelled to maintain high standards in the medical profession.
Nitschke's response to the furor associated with his involvement with Brayley has been to attack both the dead man and the 7:30 Report journalist who revealed it. In his latest edition of his eDeliverance newsletter, Nitschke alleges that the interview was an unfair ambush with “a crew of five against one.” He also stated “this journalist lied through her teeth” during the interview. He has filed a complaint against the program for allegedly breaching journalistic codes of practice.
Nitschke's stance is that there was no duty of care owed to refer Brayley on to a mental health professional or anti-suicide counselling service.
In his press conference in Adelaide this morning, Nitschke attacked Brayley, calling him a “serial wife killer” and “a person who decided to die rather than spend the next 20 years in jail.” Brayley had been considered an unnamed suspect in the disappearance of his wife, a factor in his emotional and financial exhaustion leading up to his suicide. He previously had two unrelated incidents earlier in his life where female friends had either died or disappeared.
But according to Brayley's friend Kerry O'Neil, Nitschke’s “just trying to deflect the criticism from himself. I think he's been basically caught out and he knows it and he's trying to deflect the blame.”
Nitschke says that the suspension won't affect his pro-euthanasia work. He will still appeal the decision and will take the matter to court if needed.
Nitschke's suspension was also raised during question time in the South Australian Parliament. Jack Snelling, Minister for Mental Health and Substance Abuse, reiterated that euthanasia and assisted suicide are illegal in the state, and that what Nitschke has done went beyond any piece of euthanasia or assisted suicide legislation that the Parliament had ever considered. “Any medical practitioner who feels that suicide is an option for depressed and mentally ill people, is not fit to practice medicine in South Australia,” he said.
According to Snelling, Nitschke's argument that he did not have a doctor/patient relationship with Brayley completely missed the point. “His inaction, in not referring Mr Brayley to a psychologist or psychiatrist for counselling around his wishes to end his life, is deplorable,” the MP said.
Parliamentarians also rebuked Nitschke for going against everything the government has invested in suicide prevention, encouraging depressed individuals to seek help.
Mary Waterman, whose 25-year-old son had also killed himself after becoming depressed and having contact with Nitschke's Exit International, has joined the call for an inquiry. Speaking to 7:30 Report, she said, “I've been calling it a national inquiry, but maybe something like a Royal commission into how this book has been allowed to be accessed on the internet and how many people have died from accessing this pill, whether they were mentally ill.”
Paul Russell from HOPE: No Euthanasia added, “For the families of these victims, who are indeed victims themselves, there are obviously questions for which they deserve answers. The call for a national enquiry is as much about supporting them as it is about making sure that the procession of victims from the clandestine suicide industry stops now.”