Last Sunday evening the Australian Seven network (Sunday Night program) ran a short piece on the suicide death of an 89 woman by the name of Susan Potts.
The report said that Ms Potts had killed herself by ingesting nembutal that had been purchased in Mexico by a friend. Ms. Potts had spoken with Dr. Nitschke whom, in his own words, told her what she wanted to hear about the best way to die.
Susan Potts was not sick. The video (recorded by a pro-euthanasia advocate with the expressed intent of furthering the euthanasia cause) gave us some significant clues about why she took her own life at that time. Principally, her long time companion, her dog, had recently died.
Yet when the interviewer asked the woman who had conducted the interview if she had attempted to dissuade Ms Potts from killing herself, she said no. She added that she didn't think she could have stopped her. Nitschke confirmed this in a different way by saying that Potts was rational and made a considered decision.
What kind of decision is it to kill oneself over the death of a pet dog? Undoubtedly the lady was close to this animal and one can understand her grief at this loss; but, surely, there are other ways of overcoming such grief? Was Potts rational? I cannot say, but I will say that killing oneself at the loss of a pet is not normally a rational decision in the circumstances. It would classically be said to be a disproportional response.
But of course, once again, we only have the word of Nitschke and another pro-euthanasia advocate to go on. There is no effective scrutiny here.
Nitschke was asked by the interviewer if he had crossed a line. He agreed that he had. But he did more than that. In an effort to justify his modus operandi and his actions, Nitschke said that he believes that a person over the age of 50 should be able to make such decisions about ending their lives.
Why 50 - why not 40, 30 or 20? Leaving aside the famous quotes about 'troubled teens' (which Nitschke later said was a 'mistake' and 'there will be some casualties' (which suggest that the 50 lower limit is entirely arbitrary) why does Nitschke limit access to his death workshops (and , in the interview, assisted suicide generally) to only 50 years plus?
Nitschke is nothing but inconsistent here. No so long ago he was in the news about his support for two young men in their 30s to fly to Zurich to kill themselves. He apparently used these young men as case studies in a recent debate in Melbourne. In an undated interview comment on The Blurb website, he was then advocating a lower limit of 65 years.
Nitschke is of course no orphan. Many in the pro-euthanasia lobby shift their position from time to time. From my observations, this is usually about trying to increase public sympathy while at the same time reducing the 'yuk' factor by way of a more moderate approach. It's just that Nitschke's trajectory seems to be in the reverse direction. Any wonder that a number of state-based euthanasia groups distance themselves from Nitschke.
But are they really so different?
And what about the Channel Seven Program? Is this an appropriate subject for the 6:30 pm Sunday evening time slot? Does this really add anything to the debate on euthanasia and assisted suicide or is there a risk that the story simply contributes to the problem?
A friend wryly observed that this story, like others on the subject, ran the usual 'If you need help...' credits with the usual list of help lines. BUt, if there's nothing wrong with people killing themselves, why run these credits? Perhaps to balance out the fact that the story gave Exit International free publicity too!