I hold no particular view on Dr Philip Nitschke’s general opinions and his role in assisted suicide, except to say two things.
The first is that he has been prominent in bringing the issue of suicide to the foreground and facilitating discussion on it, and I recognise that, to some extent this has allowed for the growth of organisations that are now criticising him, such as “Beyond Blue”.
The second is that he is entitled to his opinion as a human being and that opinion should not be constrained by his profession.
But I cannot understand the line being promulgated at the present time. That amounts to; we can understand that when people are plagued, beyond bearing, with a physical illness which has the probability, except for a medical breakthrough not yet on the horizon, of being a lifetime condition which will lead to death, they can find this unbearable. On the other hand we refuse to accept that people plagued by a mental state beyond bearing which also has the probability, except for a medical breakthrough not yet on the horizon or some other immutable factor, of being a lifetime condition, can also be permitted to view their situation as unbearable.
What happens to people who have multiple suicide attempts? Many do accept help voluntarily and are often relieved of some of their angst. Others are subject to involuntary institutionalisation over and over again at the behest of their loved ones. In these institutions one often finds them pleading for someone to kill them!
Many suicide attempts are unsuccessful and cause to damage in the attempt and this leads to more grief.
Just from living quite a long time and sometime working in associated areas, I have seen doctors and others dealing with the mentally ill displaying great compassion and skill and I admire them greatly. I have never heard of one advising patients to suicide, but I have heard relatives being counselled that it is time to “let go” and respect the wishes of loved ones and not to make them feel more guilty, if they continue to demonstrate consistent and deliberate suicide attempts or ideology.
It is easy to blame “the system” on one hand for people “falling through the cracks” and to think that if our system were better no one would ever wish to suicide. There are some prospects in life not acceptable even to the sane.
On the other hand a “system” which has to include forced incarceration, continuous watching with cameras for suicide attempts and a loss of self direction over the course of one’s own life can be viewed as having some serious faults, but is inevitable if we will not accept the reality of some suicidal wishes.
Those of us who do not believe in a god can accept with sadness but resignation the fact that physically ill or infirm people should have the self determination to make the end of life easier rather than to have to dehydrate or starve themselves to death, as has been done for many years by people in those situations.
The same acceptance must apply to those who, after all life’s options are before them, face what is for them an impossible, mental or emotional future.