Dr Death and his Deliverance Machine

May 21, 2009

Australian doctor Philip Nitschke, in the UK to teach people to kill themselves, recalls the first time he killed someone

Doctor Death' can vividly remember the first time he killed a man, says Cole Moreton in the Guardian. In 1996 Philip Nitschke, an Australian doctor and campaigner for euthanasia, devised his Deliverance Machine: a laptop fixed to a syringe driver, which can deliver a lethal injection at the touch of a button. The Northern Territories had just made euthanasia legal, and a cancer sufferer called Bob Dent asked to become Nitschke's first customer.

"He and his wife Judy invited me for lunch," recalls the doctor. "They gave me a sandwich but I couldn't eat it, my mouth was so dry with anxiety. I knew that when I left the room, he would be dead."

Conversation proved impossible, so they watched a football match, and then Nitschke set up the machine. "Bob pushed the buttons as quickly as he could, then held his wife. He looked as if he was going to sleep in her arms." Despite the dry mouth, Nitschke felt no guilt. "I don't feel bad about killing him in that sense. I think it was the right thing to do."

Last week he flew into Britain to teach people how to kill themselves. For legal reasons, only people over 50 or the seriously ill were allowed into his workshops on "reliable and peaceful" methods of suicide. Each one had to sign a disclaimer promising not to use the information to end their life or anyone else's - "ludicrous", says Nitschke - while he was legally bound not to "encourage" suicide, but merely to outline the technical possibilities.

It's a disingenuous position, he admits, "at the very least. Look, it's hard. We obviously take things quite close to the edge, or people don't see any benefit. They want to know how, if they do decide to end their life, they can do it."

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