Dr Philip Nitschke, aka “Dr Death”, has been in town. According to a report in the Independent on Tuesday the Australian euthanasia campaigner has been telling audiences in London, York and Scotland that “his aim [is] to save lives”. His argument runs that “once people have a means of killing themselves, many who might attempt a botched suicide would instead prolong their lives, knowing they had a way out without having to call on a loved one to help, exposing them to the risk of jail.”
Condemning China for selling banned and therefore illegal barbiturates over the internet in doses large enough to kill several adults, the doctor presents himself as the virtuous alternative: if you do it my way you won’t be breaking the law and you won’t have the extra anxiety of waiting too long to do it, thus causing problems for those who help you.
This is skewed; the message Nitschke propagates is one of despair, however reasonably he dresses it up. No amount of reassuring chat can disguise his advice that we should keep a deadly cocktail of drugs in the sock drawer for the time when we will want to call it a day. This is not just bad news for mentally ill people or those suffering from depression, who would have the constant temptation to end it all easily within reach; it is also a toxic contribution to the end-of-life debate which concerns everyone: have we got the right to take our own lives or not?
Christians answer a resounding “No” to this; others are not so sure. Some are swayed by stories in the newspapers about the neglect of the elderly, like June Capaldi, 75, cited by the Independent, who says: “I don’t want my kids and grandchildren seeing me hanging out of a chair in a retirement home with my mouth open and no teeth…” Others, such as Baroness Mary Warnock and Martin Amis, are members of the Establishment and heirs of the Enlightenment, who believe the elderly have a “duty” to die and very sick people the right.
When Dr Nitschke toured Britain in 2008 it was a failure as so many venues decided to cancel his talks; rather ominously, this time round there have been no cancellations.
Coincidentally, I was given a prayer card today about Frank Duff, founder of the Legion of Mary. A quiet, unassuming civil servant from Dublin, his long life was a wonderful witness to the dynamism of a lived faith. The prayer card states that in 1916, aged 27, he published his first pamphlet, “Can we be Saints?”: “In it he expressed one of the strongest convictions of his life, namely that all without exception are called to be saints.” Saints are simply people who radiate the love of Christ in their lives. What does Dr Nitschke and his death league radiate?