The euthanasia debate wasrevived yesterday when an Australian doctor was banned from holding a workshop on how people could end their lives and a man was spared jail for killing his bed-ridden wife. Dr Philip Nitschke, who has been nicknamed Dr Death, had planned to hold a session on euthanasia in Bournemouth next week but the owners of his first and second venue choices, the local council and Hermitage Hotel, cancelled his bookings.
Dr Nitschke chose the Dorset town because of its large elderly population. His workshops cover the merits of a helium "exit bag", Mexican drugs, morphine and "peaceful pills". He will host a session in central London on Monday and said he hoped to still be able to speak in Bournemouth on Thursday.
The pressure group Dignity in Dying attacked the way Dr Nitschke ran his sessions, saying it was "irresponsible and potentially dangerous to provide information on how to end life without safeguards or control over where the information goes." It said terminally ill adults should have access to better care and treatment, and the option of an assisted death within legal safeguards.
Dr Nitschke, from Darwin, whose book The Peaceful Pill Handbook is available online but is banned in Australia, successfully campaigned to have voluntary euthanasia made legal in Australia's Northern Territory in the 1990s.
The legalisation only lasted a few months but, in that time, four people used his "deliverance machine" to die. They pressed a button to administer a lethal dose of the barbiturate drug Nembutal. The machine is now on display at the Science Museum in London.
Dr Nitschke said the ban on his workshop would deny people access to the best information on euthanasia. "Elderly people want access to good information. It empowers them, they have a better quality of life and paradoxically they live longer because they have the peace of mind of an exit strategy."
A retired civil servant in London was also spared jail yesterday after admitting that he had smothered his wife with plastic bags in her hospital bed.
Sidney Eric Norton, 86, pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of his wife of 57 years, Betty, in Lewisham Hospital last November. Mrs Norton could be heard whimpering "no, no" after her husband pulled a curtain around them, the Old Bailey heard. He later went home, phoned his niece and told her he was planning to commit suicide. Judge Brian Barker, the Common Sergeant of London, told Norton: "I am totally convinced you are a thoughtful, kind and honest man and had been a devoted husband". Norton was given a nine-month suspended jail sentence.
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