By Hilary White

DUBLIN, March 23, 2010 ( – Euthanasia and atheist campaigner Dr. Philip Nitschke, Australia’s “Dr. Death,” told an audience in Dublin this week that he had traveled to the country after receiving “significant interest” from elderly Irish wanting information on how to end their lives.

Nitschke’s visit was opposed by pro-life groups, which have charged that his activities constitute a violation of the country’s criminal code that warrants police investigation.

Speaking in Dublin in Thursday night, Nitschke encouraged his audience at the Seomra Spraoi social centre to confirm their plans to commit suicide before they become too infirm. “Don’t wait until it’s too late, plan ahead and put in place an end-of-life strategy,” he said.

A major focus of his appearance, he said, was to help overturn Ireland’s blasphemy laws that, he contended, make it “almost impossible” to talk about assisted suicide for fear of opposition from religious groups.

Nitschke said, “As an atheist I am often asked to debate the ethical issues involved in providing a person with information that will allow them to end their life peacefully and reliably at a time of their choosing. I am constantly up against this idea that somehow life belongs to God. I disagree strongly with that assertion.”

But Rebecca Rougheen of the pro-life group Youth Defence called this claim a “red herring.” Rougheen told (LSN) that Nitschke “always tries to make out that opposition to his gruesome ideology is purely motivated by what he describes as religious bigotry.”

“When in fact, people of all creeds and none can see that what he is espousing is completely unethical and immoral.”

Nitschke’s appearance to give what was billed as a “self-deliverance workshop,” raised considerable opposition in the largely Catholic country. At the meeting he showed a video detailing the various methods he recommends for suicide, including the “exit bag” and other devices he invented and sells from his Melbourne-based group Exit International.

Promoting assisted suicide, however, is a criminal act under the current code in Ireland and pro-life groups are calling for action by the Justice Minister Dermot Ahern. “This workshop which counsels and assists in the procurement of suicide is illegal under the Criminal Law (Suicide) Act 1993 and the Minister now needs to instruct the Gardai [police] to get involved,” said Niamh Ui Bhriain of the Life Institute.

Youth Defence used the social networking site Facebook to spread the word about Nitschke’s visit and to ask supporters to contact Minister Ahern. Rougheen told LSN that, in the end, only about five individuals signed up for Nitschke’s workshop. The rest of the audience, she said, were political activists and journalists.

After protests, four venues, all publicly funded, cancelled Nitschke’s appearance. In the end, he was hosted by the Seomra Spraoi group, a leftist political organization that does not receive public funding, and bills itself as a “non-hierarchical, anti-capitalist collective, run on a not-for-profit basis.”

Despite the presence of Dublin’s gardai outside, no protest was mounted at the event itself.

One elderly attendee told local Irish TV news that he had come to hold the “right to die” philosophy after seeing members of his family die “in considerable discomfort and pain.” Doctors, he said, “have not been able to help them to die in a dignified way.”

Statements such as these have sparked concerns in the pro-life movement that pain treatment and palliative care are not adequate in many areas, and that it is this inadequacy that is fueling the push for assisted suicide and euthanasia. Others have also expressed concerns that, with the rise in popularity of the euthanasia movement, governments, many of which have socialized medical systems, will regard killing the patient as a more cost-effective means of dealing with the terminally ill and elderly.

After the meeting, Nitschke told the Irish Times that the audience had been representative of others he had spoken to: “These are not sick people. These are people who have come along because they see that it makes sense to know about ending your life.”

Nitschke, a militant secularist and founder and director of the euthanasia group Exit International, was the first doctor in the world to administer a legal, voluntary, lethal injection, killing four people, before Australia’s Rights of the Terminally Ill Act, which made assisted suicide lawful, was overturned by the Federal Parliament.

In 2000, he announced a plan to launch a “death ship,” similar to the notorious Dutch abortion ship of the group Women on Waves, that he said would have allowed him to circumvent local laws by euthanizing people in international waters. He has published two books, “Killing Me Softly” in 2005, his political manifesto, and 2007’s “The Peaceful Pill Handbook,” that gives instructions on how to commit suicide. The second book was banned in Australia and later in New Zealand.

He is also the inventor and promoter of two suicide devices, the “exit bag,” a large plastic bag with a drawstring allowing it to be secured around the neck, and the “CoGen” (or “Co-Genie”) device, that generates carbon monoxide.

Nitschke pledged to return to Ireland, leaving behind an “embryonic” group to continue campaigning.

Rougheen said that Youth Defence and the Life Institute would continue to press Minister Ahern, and encouraged pro-life people to call the ministry with concerns. Ahern, she said, needs to hear from the people “just how immoral and dangerous Nitschke’s campaign is.”

The Life Institute has commissioned a major report on euthanasia and end-of-life issues, which is expected later this year, and may run a newspaper campaign similar to last year’s Mother and Child Campaign.

“Nitschke said his operation got ‘record’ opposition in Ireland, and we’re determined he won’t be allowed to run these utterly objectionable, illegal workshops here again,” Rougheen said.

Read related LSN coverage:

Police Raid Offices of Assisted Suicide Organization

To contact Ireland’s Minister of Justice
Dermot Ahern
28 Francis Street, Dundalk, Co. Louth
Phone: 042 9329023 / 042 93 39609
Fax: 042-9329016