Should people with acute mental suffering be allowed to die?

19 November 2014

Euthanasia advocates often assert a distinction between dying with dignity (good) and suicide (bad), drawing on the community’s twin commitment to both permitting euthanasia in some circumstances, and preventing suicide. But rather than being distinct, euthanasia and suicide are points on a continuum of death decisions, that overlap uncomfortably where intractable mental suffering is asserted as grounds for assisted dying. The tension between the two was played out this week in the Northern Territory, where the local Civil and Administrative Tribunal is considering whether to uphold the Medical Board of Australia’s suspension of Philip Nitschke’s medical licence after a three-day hearing. The suspension came after Nitschke discussed assisted suicide with 45-year-old Perth man Nigel Brayley even though he knew Brayley did not have a terminal illness. Brayley reportedly told Nitschke in an email that he was “suffering” in the sense that he was deeply unhappy in his life. Nitschke did not refer to him to a psychiatrist or offer any other help.