|Australian Doctor Says He'll Develop Suicide Machine in United States
Associated Press 01/13/03: Michelle Morgante
Original Link: http://ap.tbo.com/ap/breaking/MGA3I55PVAD.html
SAN DIEGO (AP) - An Australian doctor plans to build a new machine for people to kill themselves with carbon monoxide after his prototype was seized as he left his native country, he told a euthanasia conference Sunday.
Dr. Philip Nitschke also said he intended to challenge the Australian law banning the exportation of any device that could be used to assist in suicide. He said Australian customs agents in Sydney seized his COGen machine Thursday as he prepared to leave for San Diego to unveil the device before a national meeting of the Hemlock Society.
"They were waiting for me. It's clear," he said. "We'd been quite public about bringing the machine to the U.S. to demonstrate it."
Nitschke said the law cited in seizing the machine could lead to "ridiculous" interpretations. "Why don't they take my belt and shoe laces?" he said.
Nitschke said he and U.S. supporters intend to build another suicide machine in the United States. The device consists of a coffee-can-sized canister, an intravenous drip bag and nasal prongs. Chemicals are combined in the canister to produce carbon monoxide, which is inhaled.
It has not been tested, but Nitschke estimated it would render a person unconscious within minutes and cause death in 30 minutes to an hour.
More than $11,000 was spent to develop the patented device, which Nitschke said would cost about $100 per unit to produce. He hoped to make it available free of charge to members of organizations such as Exit, the Australian pro-euthanasia group he helped found.
"We weren't planning to make money from it," he said.
Derek Humphry, who founded the Hemlock Society, said he looked forward to seeing the device. "It has all the essential elements of being simple, transportable and the patients use it themselves. ... This type of machine cuts out the legal risk."
The new machine allows operation without assistance, circumventing laws against assisted suicide, Nitschke said.
An earlier system developed by Nitschke included a syringe that administered a lethal injection at the push of a button on a laptop computer. The device was used by four terminally ill people between July 1996 and March 1997 when a short-lived law permitted voluntary euthanasia in Australia's Northern Territory.
The device used by American euthanasia advocate Dr. Jack Kevorkian worked with compressed carbon monoxide, which is hard to obtain and transport, Nitschke said, while his machine produces the toxic gas itself.
Kevorkian is serving a 10- to 25-year prison sentence for murder in the 1998 injection death of Thomas Youk, who suffered from Lou Gehrig's disease.
Speaking to about 200 people at the Hemlock Society meeting, Nitschke called Kevorkian "a hero."
"Hell, he might have made some mistakes, but did he move the movement forward? Of course he did," Nitschke said to enthusiastic applause.
The group of mostly senior citizens represents the future of society's attitudes about euthanasia, according to Nitschke and others who predict that as the Baby Boom generation ages, there will be increasing support for individual control over one's manner of death.
"There's a wave of baby boomers hitting this period of time," Nitschke said. "They're used to getting what they want. They're used to having political clout."
Nitschke's appearance drew protests from the California Life Coalition, which called his invention "ghoulish."
"Instead of helping people overcome their problems, he can only help to murder them," coalition director Cheryl Sullenger said in a statement. "Murder does not solve anything and only creates more of the human misery these people seek to avoid."
But Nitschke said he was providing a humane alternative for individuals who wish to end their lives, most often to avoid or end the suffering that comes with degenerative disease.