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D.I.Y Dying: Assisted Death for the living

Do-it-yourself euthanasia kits are being sold legally in Australia under the disguise of home brewing devices.

By Abbey Farlow

Max Dog Brewing is not what it looks like. It’s website is donned with pictures of friends enjoying beer together. The unknowing eye would mistake the site for an independent brewing company selling kits for the average punter to make their own brew at home. Max Dog Brewing, however, is a disguise for a business led by Dr Philip Nitschke, selling suicide kits.

Each kit includes a cylinder of 420 litres of Nitrogen and a custom regulator to alter Nitrogen outputs. The website claims purchasers must prove their age, and won’t sell to anyone under the age of 50. All cylinders have indefinite shelf life, making them convenient for long-term storage.

Instructions supplied in the kit include techniques to adjust the nitrogen output in order to create the perfect brew. Nitschke however, travels holding conferences teaching consumers the other use for Max Dog Brewing Kits, suicide.

Dr Philip Nitscke debuting Sarco courtesy of Exit International

Philip Nitschke, founder of Max Dog Brewing is nicknamed “Dr Death” for good reason. Nitschke is a former physician, humanist and director of pro-euthanasia group, “Exit International”. Max Dog Brewing isn’t his only ‘self-delivery’ invention, either. Nitschke has previously worked on many projects to help create safe and peaceful do-it-yourself euthanasia options for patients, including being the first doctor in the world to administer a legal, voluntary lethal injection under the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995.

In April of this year, at Amsterdam’s funeral fair, Nitschke debuted his newest death machine, Sarco.

Sarco, short for sarcophagus, is a 3D printable capsule that doubles as a coffin, hooked up to a nitrogen container. “The concept of a capsule that could produce a rapid decrease in oxygen level, while maintaining a low CO2 level, (the conditions for a peaceful, even euphoric death) led to Sarco’s development,” says Nitschke on Sarco’s website. “The elegant design was intended to suggest a sense of occasion: of travel to a ‘new destination’, and to dispel the ‘yuk’ factor.”

Sarco, courtesy of Exit International.

Nitschke’s inventions are based upon his belief that dying peacefully and at your own accord is a human right, not a medical or legal privilege. He told Newsweek, it is the “right of a rational adult to have a peaceful death, [and] every person over the age of 70 should be able to die.”

One of Australia’s most famous scientists, Dr David Goodall publicly announced this year that he will be travelling to Switzerland in early May to end his own life legally. At the age of 104, Goodall told the ABC “My recent life has not been good…I don’t feel that anyone else’s choice is involved. It’s my own choice to end my life … and I look forward to that.” The overwhelming support on his go-fund-me page is a testament to the demand and encouragement by the Australian public for assisted dying methods in Australia.

Not everyone, however, agrees with Nitschke’s ideas. Jay Anderson, a medical professional who has extensive experience with the elderly and the terminally ill, disagrees with self-deliverance devices being in the hands of the public. She says, “I believe it [euthanasia] should be allowable in certain situations. My belief comes from being a part of a Christian medical family, where life is respected [whilst] knowing that God would not want people to suffer. [However] advances in medical technology often keep people living for a lot longer than normal.”

Anderson supports euthanasia in certain circumstances. “Where someone has a severe physical health condition such as ongoing pain, losing mental capacity such as dementia, or terminal illness,” she says. When asked if she supports or would recommend one of Nitschke’s inventions to one of her patients of this condition, she firmly says “no I wouldn’t suggest it. But if they were to raise it, we could discuss it.”

Opinions such as these raise questions about the accessibility to such devices. Should everybody have access to devices that end their own life, or should it solely be up the doctor’s discretion?

Brian Martin, keynote speaker at Exit Internationals 2017 conference, says that the demographic of people purchasing Nitschke’s self delivery devices are the elderly and people with terminal illness seeking a peaceful death. “The most common reason for seeking options for peaceful dying is fear of future suffering when it is impossible (for example due to disability) to voluntarily end one’s life. Evidence suggests that people with access to means to die peacefully actually live longer, because they do not need to end their lives prematurely to avoid extreme suffering.”

Much like legal medical-based euthanasia, the patient must undergo a series of tests to ensure that they are mentally capable and able to make the decision to end their own life. In Victoria, this is undergoing a series of psychoanalysis and physical tests to determine whether you are sick enough to be euthanized.

Malcolm Parker, Legal Scholar in futile medicine, legal capacity & decision-making, says “ Care is required to ensure that existing or proposed diagnoses are not imposed on people who do not have mental illness, but who request assistance to die….It runs the risk because a number of rational thoughts and feelings including loss of meaning, are medicalised as being “calls for help” rather than being seen as part of a rational request for assistance that is not motivated by mental illness”.

Brian Martin says “People already have the right to end their lives: suicide is legal. There are numerous legal options for doing it: guns, rope, tall buildings [and] trains. These are all traumatic for the person and/or others. The government has tried to limit access to peaceful means by which people can end their lives.”

For the purpose of this article, we attempted to secure an interview with Nitschke but couldn’t due to differing time zones. At this time, Nitschke accompanied Dr David Goodall to the Life Circle/ Eternal Spirit Foundation in Switzerland. A statement issued by Exit International says, “Dr Philip Nitschke was present at David’s death and was proud to have been appointed ‘music director’. David’s chosen music was the Ode to Joy of Beethoven’s 9th symphony. According to Dr Nitschke, David died at the moment the Song (sung in German) concluded. Speaking of Professor Goodall’s death, Philip said he was extremely sad to lose such a ‘inspiring man of science.’”

Nitschke and Goodall on his final day, courtesy of Exit International

If you are seeking support and information about suicide prevention, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.