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Nitschke faces registration suspension

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Outspoken euthanasia advocate Dr Philip Nitschke has been asked to show reason why his medical registration should not be suspended following widespread condemnation of his conduct regarding a suicidal man who later killed himself.

The Medical Board of Australia is considering whether to take immediate action to limit Dr Nitschke’s registration, which expires on 30 September, in the interests of public safety after the campaigner admitted he did not advise the suicidal man, Nigel Brayley, to seek psychiatric help.

It has been asserted that Mr Brayley approached Dr Nitschke following an Exit International workshop and said he wanted to die because his life was falling apart.

Dr Nitschke told Fairfax Media he asked the man ‘Why don’t you go and talk to someone?’, to which he responded by telling him to mind his own business.

“My relationship with him was certainly not a doctor-patient relationship,” he said. “He was a person I had scant dealings with. He had obtained lethal drugs before he even talked to me.”

“The person made a rational decision, and I’m not going to try and second-guess him on that one.

“If a person comes along and says to me that they’ve made a rational decision to end their life in two weeks, I don’t go along and say ‘Oh, have you made a rational decision?’ We don’t do that.”

But his stance has been contradicted by AMA President Associate Professor Brian Owler, who said doctors had a legal, moral and ethical obligation to give appropriate advice.

“Every doctor, when dealing with a patient who expresses some sort of suicidal ideation, does have a duty to provide that patient with appropriate clinical advice, and at least advise them about seeking appropriate treatment,” A/Professor Owler told The Australian. “That’s not just a legal issue. That’s a moral and ethical issue too.”

Chair of the mental health group beyondblue, Jeff Kennett, said Dr Nitscke’s stance was inconsistent with the medical profession’s Hippocratic Oath and “totally reprehensible”.

Mr Kennett, who has strongly supported the legalisation of euthanasia under strict conditions, said Dr Nitchke’s actions had set the cause back many years.

The issue erupted just weeks after a euthanasia Bill was introduced to the Senate by Greens Senator Dr Richard Di Natale.

The draft legislation proposes the establishment of a ‘dying with dignity’ service that would authorise doctors to prescribe, prepare and/or administer a substance that would assist a terminally ill person to end their life in a humane way.

The Bill would indemnify doctors involved against prosecution and calls for the service to be funded by the Commonwealth.

“It’s time we put dying with dignity laws firmly on the naiotnal agenda,” Dr Di Natale said, adding that he had referred the draft legislation to a Senate inquiry “so that my colleagues have the opportunity to hear the personal stories of individuals who are facing the end of their lives and would be comforted just by having the option of doing so on their own terms”.

The issue of assisted death is in the spotlight internationally.

The European Court of Human Rights has blocked the judgement of a senior French court, the State Council, that had allowed for the life support system of a man left in a vegetative state since a vehicle accident in 2008 be withdrawn.

And early this month the British Medical Journal ran an editorial by its senior editors, including Editor in Chief Fiona Godlee, urging that British Parliament pass an Assisted Dying Bill currently before it.

Under the Bill, adults with a terminal illness who are not expected to live more than six months could be legally assisted to end their lives.