Exit International boss and former medical doctor, Philip Nitschke recently awarded his so-called “Peaceful Pill Prize” to an elderly Australian couple essentially because the woman concerned recently cried a patronising “bullshit” at Professor Margaret Somerville on the ABC’s Q&A program.
Nitschke claimed that Mr and Mrs Fellows’ comments were “forthright” and “a significant contribution to the Australian euthanasia debate”.
Nitschke’s endowment upon the Fellows, it seems, was no accident either. He admits that the couple are members of his Exit organisation and exemplars, one suspects, of Exit’s new militant wing, Exit Action. If the Fellows have set the standard perhaps we can expect more of this revolting behaviour as other card-carrying Nitschke-ites vie for the same prize.
So, what do the Fellows gain for their inglorious moment? Steak Knives? Champagne? No. “Two redeemable vouchers for 12mg packages of pure sodium pentobarbital (Nembutal).” I suppose an alternative might have been a lifetime membership of Exit.
The Fellows, by their own admission are not unwell but simply don’t want to live in a nursing facility in their decrepitude. None of us does, really, let’s be honest. That’s an issue that many of us will face; but few, I suspect, want to try to foist upon society a euthanasia regime with all its attendant and irretrievable risks simply for the sake of getting our own way.
People who are used to getting their own way don’t necessarily consider much else in the drive for autonomy. The well, well-off but worried have a very blinkered view re-enforced by the Nitschke mantra of rationality.
Such was the assurance given by Exit’s youngest member-now-statistic, Adam Maier-Clayton, who suicided recently in Canada. Twenty-seven-year-old Maier-Clayton had some significant mental health issues yet claimed to be entirely “rational”.
According to one report, he suffered anxiety, mood disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder and tried all sorts of remedies and relief to no avail; difficulties that should not be discounted. He spent the last few months campaigning for the inclusion of mental illness within the scope of Canada’s new death legislation, arguing that not only those who are near death suffer refractory symptoms.
In January he posted a picture of himself wearing an Exit T-shirt with an image of Nitschke emblazened across it, saying that he was “rocking his Exit International Official membership”, adding that he felt he was “absurdly rational” and should not be excluded from Canada’s death laws.
Just because someone can engage in a process of thought does not necessarily make them truly rational. It is not necessarily thought processes that suffer through depression, unremitting pain and the like. It is, in my own experience, the connection with others that diminishes – the threads that bind us to each other. In other words, the context of one’s life can seem strangely distant. Blurred by pain, remove the context of care, of family of future from the equation and thought – even seemingly rational thoughts – and logic becomes an untrustworthy guide.
British columnist, Andrew Lawton recently explained it in Canada’s Global News:
“This idea that suicide is dignified and painless is a dangerous one. Take it from someone who tried and failed.
“Nearly seven years ago I overdosed on dozens of pills – causing multiple cardiac arrests and weeks in hospital on life support.
“I survived, but only narrowly so.
“Everything from the method to the date and time was meticulously thought out.
“I picked the day because I didn’t have any other appointments scheduled – as though missing a meeting would have been the only problem with my plan any other day.
“Suicidal people are irrational. This is true even when decisions appear to be made through logic and reason.
“I saw suicide as the answer to pain I was convinced wouldn’t abate.
“It wasn’t just about picking the easy way out of an unpleasant situation – it was the only way. I saw no way my life would improve.
“Spoiler alert: it did.
“Like Maier-Clayton, I had tried myriad therapies, medications, and treatment throughout my years-long battle with depression. By the time I tried to pull the plug on my own existence, none had made an impact.
“But after the attempt, that changed. Healing didn’t happen overnight, but things that hadn’t worked previously showed positive results.
“My circumstances didn’t change, but my outlook did.”
The very last thing that a society needs is someone like Nitschke telling suicidal people that their desire for death is “rational”.
Likewise, telling those who understandably fear their demise that they have a “way out”, that, effectively, they don’t need to face their fears nor find a path through them to a fulfilling life in spite of them, is reckless.
But these are precisely the messages that euthanasia and assisted suicide laws send – with the added weight of government approval.