Churches’ fears over euthanasia ‘workshop’

Dr Philip Nitschke
Dr Philip Nitschke
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CHURCH leaders have called on the police to investigate an event in Edinburgh where people will be given advice on “DIY” euthanasia.

High-profile Dr Philip Nitschke – dubbed Australia’s Dr Death – has hired church premises for what has been branded a “Practical Euthanasia Workshop”.

He said he would inform people of “newly-developed, reliable, DIY end of life strategies that do not require travel to Switzerland”.

But Peter Kearney, spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland, said the police should investigate whether the workshop was breaking the law.

He said: “I would suggest the police may have a locus to investigate. They should satisfy themselves whether what is proposed comes within the terms of the law.”

Dr Nitschke, director of Exit International, claimed access to reliable methods to peacefully end your life was a human rights and free speech issue.

He said: “The elderly and seriously ill have a right to know. Of course, most hope they will never need to take matters into their own hands, but they gain great comfort from knowing what to do to die peacefully and reliably if that time ever comes.”

Dr Nitschke said Exit took a “DIY approach” due to the constraints of the law.

“While suicide is not a crime, assisting someone to die is a serious crime which can result in a decade in jail.”

The workshop is due to take place at St Mark’s ArtSpace at St Mark’s Unitarian Church in Castle Terrace on Saturday November 19.

Dr Nitschke said the event would include information on mail-order options for the best euthanasia drugs from China and Mexico and dangers associated with incorrect euthanasia drug use.

When Dr Nitschke visited England in 2008, police said anyone who “aids, abets, counsels or procures the suicide of another, or an attempt by another” to commit suicide could face prosecution under the 1961 Suicide Act. The Act does not apply in Scotland.

But Dr Gordon Macdonald of campaign group Care Not Killing said there could still be questions over the legality of what happened at the workshop.

He said: “Depending on what he says, it could be deemed to be assisting suicide, which is illegal in Scotland.”

The Rev Ian Galloway, convener of the Church of Scotland’s church and society council, said: “To reduce the conversation about life and death to a workshop on how to help someone to kill themselves demeans our common humanity.”

Independent Lothians MSP Margo MacDonald, who is preparing to reintroduce a Bill in the Scottish Parliament to allow assisted suicide, distanced herself from Dr Nitschke.

She said: “Dr Nitschke will do nothing to prevent suicide. I will expect society and the state to do everything possible to prevent a person committing suicide, unless in the narrow circumstances described in my Bill – that is, someone who is terminally ill, who knows there is no recovery and they are unlikely to achieve a peaceful and dignified death.”

The Rev Maud Robinson, minister of St Mark’s, said renting to Dr Nitschke was a commercial let. She said: “We let out premises to various organisations. We have nothing to do with the event.”

A spokesman for Lothian and Borders Police said: “We will investigate any allegation of criminality reported to us.”