Page last updated at 19:10 GMT, Monday, 13 October 2008 20:10 UK

Suicide workshops for the over-50s

By Mario Cacciottolo
BBC News

Dr Philip Nitschke
Dr Nitschke says Exit International will now have a presence in London

Australian euthanasia expert Dr Philip Nitschke says there is now enough support in the UK for his organisation Exit International to have a permanent presence here.

"When elderly people know they have prepared for potentially ending their life, then it gives them a better quality of life, they stop worrying and sometimes they even live longer."

Dr Philip Nitschke is in London to promote Exit International, a voluntary euthanasia information and advocacy group, andhas not had a smooth time since coming over from his native Australia.

Two of his suicide workshops in Dorset were cancelled after the venues pulled out.

But he insists there is enough UK interest in Exit International's work to allow a "chapter" of the organisation to be opened up shortly in London.

A public event was held by Exit International at Conway Hall in Holborn, central London, on Monday, to explain what it does - essentially giving people information on how to end their own lives.

It is illegal under the 1961 Suicide Act to aid, abet, counsel or procure the suicide of another, but Dr Nitschke held his event regardless.

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said that it had not investigated Dr Nitschke and had not received any complaints about him.

So this latest attempt by the organisation to have a public talk went ahead, and a series of private workshops were held afterwards to discuss the most effective methods for ending one's own life.

People want to know which methods will give a definite, peaceful end
Dr Philip Nitschke

Dr Nitschke says Exit International, which is non-profit, is intended to help older people obtain "pieces of equipment that people can put in a cupboard and forget about".

These are often dubbed "DIY suicide kits", although this is not a term used by Dr Nitschke himself.

"If you're an elderly person then it makes sense to put things in place while you can, when you're still able," he says.

"If you fall ill and get incapacitated, and you have to ask someone to help you - by going abroad and getting drugs, for example - then they may end up facing serious legal charges for helping you."

'Practicalities'

Dr Nitschke says Monday's event was attended by about 40 to 50 people, and of those "about two thirds" stayed behind for the workshops.

"A lot of the information isn't appropriate for discussing at a public meeting, so the workshops are where we discuss practicalities. People wanted to know about certainties, not probabilities. They wanted to know which methods will give a definite, peaceful end."


I'm very happy that I now have this information, and I think everyone should have access to it as well

David Michael
The general meeting was for "anyone who came in off the street", but the workshops - for which a 20 donation was asked - was restricted to the over-50s.

The age limit is in place "to stop young people from getting hold of this information" and, Dr Nitschke says, where that limit should be has been debated "long and hard".

"We decided upon a 50-year age limit because we consider that a person of that age has had enough experience of life to make these sorts of decisions."

Banned book

To coincide with his event, Dr Nitschke has also launched the Peaceful Pill eHandbook, which is a summary of the information he provides in his workshop.

The book is available as a download from the internet, along with film clips.

After the book was banned in Australia and New Zealand, Dr Nitschke decided to launch it in the UK where there are "more liberal publication laws".

He admits there is nothing to stop anyone under the age of 50 from downloading his book, although he says buyers are required to click a button to declare that they are at least 18 years old, for which there is no vetting process.

"I would be surprised if an impetuous teenager got hold of this book.

"But I do know there will be a huge amount of elderly people who will see this book and get peace once they get this issue under their control."

'Human right'

David Michael, 52, is a property developer from Stroud in Gloucestershire who came to London for Dr Nitschke's meeting.

He says he "absolutely" would be interested in preparing for his death in future, and would also be interested in obtaining some of the drugs Dr Nitschke discussed, which are available in Mexico but not legal for humans in the UK.

"It's a basic human right to be in control of our lives and how we end it. This is incredibly empowering. Being aware of death is also an essential way of life."

Mr Michael also says he would be happy to help Exit International establish their chapter, or presence, in the UK. He says about 30 people were at the meeting, adding that he was "shocked" at what he considered a low turnout.

"I thought the place would be packed. People need to know this information is available. I'm very happy that I now have it, and I think everyone should access to it as well."

But Mr Michael said that, whatever his involvement with Exit International, he would not break the law.

"You've got to be very careful that you're giving out information, and not actually assisting suicide," he said.

"You're not buying equipment or physically assisting people, you're just stating facts."

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