Dr Philip Nitschke giving a talk in 2006. Photo: abc.net
Dr Philip Nitschke giving a talk in 2006. Photo: abc.net

Euthanasia expert Philip Nitschke, internationally known as ‘Dr. Death’, was banned from a hotel in Eastbourne last week. He had arranged a ‘suicide workshop’ in the Langham Hotel on the Royal Parade in Eastbourne last week and was denied the venue after initially being given the OK and was later told that he was “not welcome in Sussex”.

The scheduled talk was suddenly cancelled after speculation that Nitschke’s organisation, Exit International and the hotel hosting them could potentially be facing criminal charges. Hotel manager Neil Kirby stated, ‘we took it as a business booking. It’s a free country.’ A day later, General Manager, Andrew Coy stated that he was ‘not going to declare [the] reasons’ for the sudden cancellation. On Thursday 16 October, councils across Sussex followed suit after they heard about the hotel’s dramatic change of heart.

Eastbourne MP Nigel Waterson, who is opposed to euthanasia, was pleased that the seminar was cancelled, not because he was ‘against a full public debate on the issue’ but because the instruction of suicide is against the law. Various council spokespersons across Sussex had much to say on this issue, ranging from worries about the legality of ‘suicide workshops’ to the sensitivity of the community to refusing to hold such a controversial debate in a public area.

Dignity in Dying, another organisation promoting patient choice at the end of life, believes that instructing how to end life without safeguards or control over where the information goes is ‘irresponsible and potentially dangerous’.

‘Dr. Philip Nitschke’s euthanasia kit is known as the ‘Exit bag’ and ‘CoGen’ device. When used together, the patient is able to inhale deadly amounts of carbon dioxide’

According to the Exit International website, Nitschke’s workshops are split into two parts: one that the general public can attend, explaining Exit International’s views on euthanasia, and one where those who attend must be part of the organisation, over 50 and sign a disclaimer.

A Brighton and Hove City Council spokesperson stated that ‘it’s not the council’s role to support or oppose any event that promotes euthanasia. It’s our role to support older people to live as long and active life as possible’.

Dr. Nitschke said ‘I’m disgusted frankly. This is the third one now pulling out at the last minute after publicly saying they were OK. We are desperately searching for a new venue in Eastbourne. We’re still scheduled to go across to Belfast on Monday so it has to be this weekend in Eastbourne. We’ll see how it goes but we’re running out of options. The elderly folk – those who are seriously ill – who have a lot to benefit from this sort of event are the ones who are going to lose’.

However, to Nitschke’s disdain, the talk scheduled at Queen’s University in Belfast was promptly cancelled. ‘They didn’t even have the courtesy to contact me directly,’ he said. He stated that it was not only an insult to him, but an insult to the intelligence of Queen’s students if they weren’t allowed to take on board other views.

Dr. Philip Nitschke’s euthanasia kit is known as the ‘Exit Bag’ and ‘CoGen’ device. When used together, the patient is able to inhale deadly amounts of carbon monoxide. He was recognised as the Australian Humanist of the Year by the council of Australian Humanist Societies in 1998 and assisted in the painless death of four people before the law was overturned by the Federal Government. Euthanasia is still legal in Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the U.S. state of Oregon, Andalucía and Thailand.

Nitschke was shocked but not phased by the sudden cancellations to his tour. He has vowed to return to England and it’s southern counties in March 2009 to hold meetings in Bournemouth, Eastbourne, Brighton and London, as well as Belfast in early 2009.

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