COMMENT: Why did RTE give Nitschke a platform to promote suicide

Philip Nitschke is an incurable attention-seeker – traversing the globe with an array of bizarre machinery, attracting more media than members to his grisly workshops and making increasingly dreadful pronouncements promoting suicide.

But there is nothing eccentric or fatuous about Nitschke’s cause, and his crusade is both dangerous and misleading. The Australian is an enthusiastic proponent of legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide, and this was his second visit to Ireland within twelve months.

Not that there was any demand for his ‘services’. Nitschke’s visit received front page coverage and plenty of promotion on radio where he insisted that he was returning to Ireland in response to requests from members.

Yet only a handful of people turned up to his horrible workshop, where he demonstrated his latest gadget to ‘assist’ in the suicide of the elderly, the sick and the vulnerable. I know because I was there.

Both my beloved parents died following debilitating illnesses. I strongly believe that Nitschke is normalizing suicide, and bringing about a situation where elderly and sick people feel they have a ‘duty to die’, in the words of Nitschke’s fellow traveller, Baroness Warnock. I know that palliative care, family support and love are what help at the end of life – not making elderly and sick people feel as if they are a burden.”

So I called a protest outside the scruffy backroom venue where Nitschke was holding his workshop (he had been turfed out of four other venues last year when the Life Institute made it known that his workshop was immoral and illegal). With the help of the Life Institute, within 24-hours notice, 50 of us had gathered to defend human life. Almost no-one went in, so I ventured a look inside to see what was happening. Apart from 15 or so journalists and photographers, there was a very small number of elderly people – perhaps a half dozen in total.

The numbers are a clear indication that Dr. Nitschke’s suicide workshop is not welcome in Ireland. Yet although the Garda Commissioner’s office had received oodles of calls asking the Gardai to take action, the authorities refused to close the workshop down.

In a letter to the Gardai, Niamh Uí Bhriain of the Life Institute said, “Clearly Dr Nitschke is counselling the suicide of others and his actions are in breach of the 1993 Ccriminal Justice (Suicide) Act. This law was written to protect vulnerable people and, should the Gardai not enforce the law, this workshop will most likely result in the death of an Irish citizen at some stage in the future.” At the workshop I asked Gardai present to intervene and stop the workshop. They refused.

So Nitschke left Ireland the following day. But within two weeks he was back – his flight and expenses paid for by you, via RTÉ, so that he could avail of a huge platform on the Late Late Show. There, he was treated with kid gloves by Ryan Tubridy, who had no opposing guest on the panel when dealing with the issue. A few pro-life people were allowed to make some short remarks from the audience, but most of the section was given over to Nitschke and his promotion of suicide.

RTÉ rang us to ask if we would speak from the audience. We told them that they were acting recklessly and irresponsibly in allowing Nitschke this platform. Sure enough, while members of the audience did their very best to challenge Nitschke, he had the lion’s share of the time, the advantage of being unopposed in his interview, and the platform to make his case. We were assured that ample time would be given to those opposing Nitschke and that people with terminal illnesses would be given an opportunity to challenge him. That didn’t happen.

Amongst the television audience that night, there is no doubt that there were vulnerable people who don’t really listen to the intricacies of the debate but simply hear someone on the national broadcaster arguing in favour of suicide.

This crass decision by RTÉ comes at a time when we’re losing more than 600 Irish people a year due to suicide, and every case is a tragedy which leaves families devastated. Allowing Nitschke’s reckless and dangerous promotion of suicide will surely lead directly to the death of vulnerable people in Ireland.