The prospect of a television ad promoting assisted suicide is causing a stir in New Zealand. One anti-euthanasia advocate is arguing that the doctor behind the ad is preying on the depressed and the mentally troubled.
Dr. Philip Nitschke, based in Australia, is an advocate for assisted suicide in the U.S., Canada, Ireland, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand. Last month in Canada he held a seminar at the First Unitarian Church of Toronto for about 50 people, giving them information on how to commit suicide.
Alex Schadenberg, international chairman of the Ontario-based Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, said Nitschke has been on an international tour to promote his “suicide manual” and to explain how people may circumvent the law if they assist in a suicide.
He characterized the doctor as a “suicide predator” who searches for people and encourages or counsels them to commit suicide.
“The predator is not concerned about the frame of mind of the person, they are only concerned with the fact that this person has expressed some interest in death,” Schadenberg told CNA.
He compared Nitschke to William Melchert-Dinkel, a man being prosecuted in Minnesota after he allegedly used fake identities to establish relationships with the depressed and suicidal and then encouraged them to commit suicide.
Nitschke’s advocacy has also drawn criticism in New Zealand, whose Commercial Approvals Bureau recently approved the screening of an advertisement by Nitschke which promotes assisted suicide.
Right to Life New Zealand expressed disappointment in the decision, asking that Television New Zealand uphold “the common good” and promote “a culture of life” by assuring the public that the 45-second suicide video will not be screened.
The group said it would be inconsistent for the state-owned broadcaster to show a video promoting suicide while also spending millions of dollars on suicide prevention programs.
“There are on average about 500 suicides reported each year in New Zealand. Suicides have a profound effect on families and whole communities. The screening of Dr. Nitschke’s suicide video would be socially irresponsible and could result in an increase of suicides,” Right to Life New Zealand said.
“The prevailing community attitude towards suicide is that it is unacceptable behavior, promotes a culture of death, is contrary to the common good and is destructive of the social fabric,” the group added.
It argued that the broadcast violates rules against ads which support violent behavior and which lack due social responsibility to society.
“Suicide or self murder is in itself the ultimate in violence against oneself, it is unacceptable to the community,” Right to Life New Zealand said.
Noting that Nitschke cites the principle of freedom of speech to protect himself from criticism and legal action, Schadenberg said that freedom of speech has limits.
“These kind of actions are not only irresponsible, but they are dangerous to vulnerable people,” the anti-euthanasia advocate told CNA.
Schadenberg also characterized legalized assisted suicide as “the ultimate form of elder abuse.” He questioned whether the elderly will ask for assisted suicide under pressure from relatives.
He also warned that legally required psychological assessments for those who request suicide in Oregon – where assisted suicide is legal - are not taking place.
“People who are planning to kill themselves or be involved with killing another are often going through depression, mental breakdown or experiencing a life-changing challenge, like few others. These are people who, without the necessary support, are not freely choosing to die, but rather dying out of a sense of fear, last resort or abandonment.”