“Doing a Debbie”- Using the Media and Courts to Effect Change - Opinion 9Aug09
The news stories that have
captured global attention this week are that of UK MS sufferer Debbie Purdy
& quadriplegic, Chris Rossiter in Perth Western Australia. Both Debbie &
Chris have successfully used the public depiction of their plight to draw
attention to the existing unjust legislation that controls & constrains
their end of life options.
This week a breakthrough came in Debbie's
long-running battle to establish whether her partner Omar would be at legal risk
if he were to help her travel to Switzerland to take advantage of that country's
assisted suicide legislation. The House of Lords decided that Director of Public
Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, needs to provide rules for the courts in such cases.
Understandably unimpressed by this announcement, the DPP has stated that any
guidelines he formulates will apply to all cases, not just those of people
helping loved ones to board a flight to Switzerland.
Debbie was thrilled
and Exit congratulates her on her efforts. That said we are disappointed that Ms
Purdy has once again chosen to lash out at our activities, claiming she wants
“safeguards, counselling and medical advice” before any information on end of
life choices should be provided. “Nitschke” she said, “does not insist on
safeguards, making his work dangerous to vulnerable people”
While this is
a re-statement of a common-enough sentiment by some in the end of life choices
movement - that doctors must control the process of being helped to die &
that suicide assistance should only be available to those seriously physically
ill - Exit's rapidly growing member of well elderly folk suggest there are
plenty of people who disagree with Debbie. The average age of Exit members is 75
years. Most say they see their access to information and hence knowledge of
their choices as an insurance policy for the future. Surely this is not
difficult to understand?
Paradoxically, Debbie’s win in House of Lords is
likely to be a boon to the DIY model of end of life information and
decision-making. With the codification of assisted suicide laws by the DPP in
the UK, we should expect significant liberalisation of the circumstances in
which it is lawful to provide assistance. The fear that currently stops many
from taking the steps needed to obtain their own supply of Nembutal may well
At Exit's forthcoming series of November UK workshops
(scheduled for London, Edinburgh & Dublin), we expect that demand for end of
life choices knowledge in general, & reliable DIY strategies in particular,
will be strongly, largely as a result this clarification by the DPP. Debbie
Purdy has worked hard for the right to safely go to Switzerland to die. Her
legacy is much broader, in that it will almost certainly result in better access
to the means of a peaceful, reliable death without leaving
In Australia, Exit member quadriplegic Chris Rossiter
has decided he’s had enough. He wants a peaceful death, either by travelling to
Switzerland or, if that isn’t possible, by exercising his right to refuse fluids
& nutrition. Neither course will be easy for a man who is unable to move
& totally dependent on care for his every need.
lawyer, high-profile solicitor John Hammond, will be representing Chris next
Friday when the matter goes before the Chief Justice in the Supreme Court of
Western Australia. Exit hopes that Justice Martin will acknowledge Chris' right
to exercise his rational choice, thereby reassuring Chirs' Brightwater Nursing
Home of the lawfulness of complying with Chris' stated wishes.
if Chris does choose to refuse food & fluids, we need to be clear about what
is going on. If Chris is allowed to make this choice, we - society via our
lawmakers - are effectively condoning a form of state-sanctioned torture. Sure,
Chris will be given “sedation”, but it is naïve to think that this process is
simply a case of sleeping towards your own death.
Last but not least
there is an intriguing twist to Chris' story. Chris has stated repeatedly that
he wants his death to matter, he wants to effect change. To this end, when Exit
was approached by Robert Chua, Founder & Chairman of Hong Kong TV's 'Health and Lifestyle' channel, suggesting the
establishment of a 24/7 webcam to monitor Chris’ journey, Exit immediately took
the idea to Chris who supported the idea. As I mentioned Chris, if we are going
to acknowledge that a death by starvation is lawful, let’s ensure the world
knows what is involved.
I will be travelling to Hong Kong next Friday
and will join Robert Chua in launching his new 'Euthanasia' weekly program and
to join several TV debates & interviews on end of life choice. The
establishment of a Hong Kong chapter of Exit is also planned.A highlight of the
planned media will be a live cross to Debbie Purdy in northern England. No doubt
we will have to agree to disagree that not everyone will fit her idea of who and
who does not deserve access to end of life information.
Darwin, August 2009