"Voluntary euthanasia advocate and former medical doctor Philip Nitschke plans to hold Australia’s first conference on rational suicide – the idea that people do not have to be terminally ill or depressed to want to die – at Victoria’s State Library in Melbourne next year.
Philosophers and sociologists will be invited among those asked to attend, but members of Australia’s medical profession will not be invited to speak, Nitschke has told Guardian Australia.
Nitschke has been widely condemned by the medical profession for failing to advise a 45-year-old Perth man, Nigel Brayley, who was not his patient, to see a psychiatrist after receiving an email from Brayley saying he wanted to take his own life. Brayley was healthy and did not have a terminal illness. In May 2014 he took his own life using the drug Nembutal, which he illegally imported, and which Nitschke has written a handbook about how to obtain.
Nitschke has argued that Brayley made a rational decision to suicide. The concept of rational suicide means that people who decide to take their own life do not necessarily have to be suffering from psychological distress or mental illness, or suffering with a terminal, untreatable medical condition.
The majority of medical professionals dispute the concept, and believe healthy people who wish to take their own life are overwhelmingly suffering from mental illness or distress which can and should be treated.
Nitschke burned his medical registration after a long-running investigation into his conduct by the Medical Board of Australia, which resulted in a long list of conditions being placed upon him if he wanted to continue practising medicine.
Those conditions made practising as a doctor while also advocating for voluntary euthanasia on behalf of the right-to-die organisation he founded, Exit International, impossible, so Nitschke chose to relinquish his career to continue his euthanasia work.
But unlike most proponents of voluntary euthanasia, Nitschke believes it is not just the severely terminally ill that should have the right to end their own life. Now that his medical career is over, he says, he will be pushing to extend the euthanasia debate by pushing the idea of rational suicide, a concept even many supporters of voluntary euthanasia balk at.
Nitschke believes all elderly people regardless of their health condition should be issued with Nembutal, a class of drug known as a barbiturate that proves fatal at high doses, so they have the option of taking their own life.
He says prisoners serving life sentences and with no eligibility for parole should be given the same option, which he says is an example of rational suicide because they are not always depressed or unwell. Similarly, he says someone who loses their spouse and who decides that as a result, they do not want to live any more, should have the freedom to make the choice to die without being accused of being depressed."