By Thaddeus M. Baklinski

VANCOUVER, October 26, 2009 ( – The Unitarian Church of Vancouver has stepped in to provide a Canadian venue for Australian right-to-die activist Philip Nitschke after he was refused workshop space to hold a seminar on how to commit suicide by the Vancouver Public Library.

Rev. Steven Epperson of the Unitarian church said he believes Nitschke, director of the suicide advocacy group Exit International, has the right to free speech, even if he's telling people how to kill themselves.

“Historically, we have provided a forum, a space, for controversial, difficult ideas to be presented,” Epperson told the Vancouver Province.

The Vancouver church has a long history of providing a platform for the advocacy of views deeply contrary to those of Christianity, including support for abortion and homosexuality.

Qualifying his invitation to Nitschke because of possible legal implications, Epperson added, “It does not mean, in any way, endorsement. We are not endorsing Exit International. We're not necessarily endorsing their outlook, their philosophy.”

The Vancouver Public Library cancelled Nitschke's suicide seminar after city librarian Paul Whitney sought legal advice from lawyers and the Vancouver Police Department.

“We were told in all likelihood this program would be in contravention of Section 241 of the Criminal Code and that states that it is an indictable offense to counsel or aid or abet any person to commit suicide, and this seems sort of, fairly clear to us,” Whitney told the media after he nixed the event scheduled for early November.

“The library was told in what, for lawyers, I would describe as fairly unambiguous language that the program as presented by Exit International would be in contravention of the Criminal Code,” Whitney said.

In Canada, it is a crime to counsel, aid or abet suicide, punishable by a 14-year prison term.

The library could also have faced the possibility of being sued by the family of a person who used the information from the event and killed herself, Whitney added.

After the library announced its decision, the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) waded into the fray, demanding a reversal of the decision from the library board.

“We were disappointed that they weren't willing to push the envelope,” said David Eby, executive director of the BCCLA, after his unsuccessful bid to get the ban lifted.

“Usually, librarians are our closest allies in this free-speech debate.”

The two part workshop at the Unitarian church will consist of a discussion on the politics of the assisted-suicide movement, and then a lesson on specific ways to commit suicide, restricted to persons over 55, including information about which drugs to use, how to obtain them and how to take them.

“What we do at these gatherings is to, first of all, explain to people why we think it's a good idea to know how to kill yourself peacefully and reliably,” explained Dr. Nitschke, who carried out the world's first legal assisted suicides in the 1990s, and has had similar workshops banned in his native Australia, as well as in New Zealand.

Vancouver is the first date on his North American tour.

(To support the movement against the legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia, go the website of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition for more information.)

See previous LSN coverage:

Vancouver Library Denies Venue to Suicide Group

Euthanasia Provider to Alzheimer's Patients: The Best Remedy is Death


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