Byline: by David Jones
WITH his jam-jar spectacles, grey-flecked beard and jocular Australian repartee, there is something of Rolf Harris about Dr Philip Nitschke.
Like the veteran Antipodean entertainer with his wobble board, he also has a penchant for selfinvented contraptions and clearly clearly relishes showing his audiences how they work.
In truth, however, there is nothing amusing about Dr Nitschke -- or Dr Death as he is known Down Under for his outspoken advocacy of (and self-proclaimed participation in) assisted suicide.
For the devices he builds, and nonchalantly instructs his disciples to use, are 'flawlessly efficient, undetectable' killing machines.
And having attended one of his macabre workshops, and spent hours listening to his disturbing homespun philosophy, I am astonished and appalled that this 63-year- old oddball is being allowed to influence pupils in British schools. As the Daily Mail revealed on aturday, Dr Nitschke features in a controversial, 20-minute educational film about euthanasia now being shown to GCSE philosophy students as young as 14.
Produced by Bristol-based Classroom Videos, it purports to take a balanced view of this most emotive and controversial of topics.
This may well be so -- yet even among many ardent right-to-die proponents, 'Dr Death' is regarded as a maverick who basks in his own notoriety.
Indeed, in an unguarded moment, he admitted to me he found his globe-trotting crusade to legalise assisted suicide 'exciting'--a strange word to describe such sombre work.
More worryingly for the parents of his impressionable new British audience, he also argued that, as adults, people aged just 18 should have the right to decide whether to take their lives, and be given the information on how to do it.
So who is Philip Nitschke, and how has this outspoken Australian become such an influential figure in the assisted suicide debate in Britain?
With the Commission of Assisted Dying set to make recommendations to MPs on changing -- and in all probability softening -- the law, it is time we knew the unpalatable truth about him.
For one thing, this former hippy has spent his entire adult life campaigning for liberal causes, starting with Aborigine land rights, and took up the euthanasia issue quite by chance.
After graduating in physics he did various jobs, including working as a forest ranger, before retraining as a hospital doctor at 40.
Inevitably, however, he soon fell foul of the medical establishment -- for campaigning against the docking of U.S. nuclear submarines in the port of Darwin -- and was sacked. It was while he was unemployed and idly listening to a euthanasia discussion on the radio that he 'When he died I felt an enormous sense of relief' decided it was time to begin a new anti-authority struggle.
In Australia's remote Northern Territory, politicians had never faced a campaigner as fervent and charismatic, and after a few years of campaigning he had scored a famous victory. In 1995, in a decision that sent shockwaves through the nation, the territory became the first place in the western world to legalise assisted suicide.
Buoyed by his success, Nitschke then invented his first DIY suicide device, which, with characteristic melodrama, he called the Deliverance Machine. A cumbersome old Toshiba laptop rigged up to control the injection through a tube inserted into a vein, it brought death speedily--and apparently painlessly -- at the touch of a button.
The would-be suicide simply had to respond in the affirmative to three questions--the last of which read: 'In 15 seconds you will be given a lethal injection. Press "Yes" to proceed.'
The first man to be 'delivered', in September 1996, was a prostate cancer sufferer from Darwin named Bob Dent. Nitschke is evidently proud to have personally administered the lethal injection -- and boasts of being the first medical doctor to have done so legally. …