tip off

Philip Nitschke: no good deed goes unpunished as hospital turns on me

Exit International director Dr Philip Nitschke gave a guest lecture at a hospital as a favour. Now the head of the department at the hospital is trying to get his medical licence revoked.

Imagine this: you are visiting from interstate on other matters. Your “colleagues” (you have never met these people but it could be said that you share similar professional interests) hear of your visit and invite you to give up your time for free to present a breakfast talk to a closed meeting at their place of work. They say they have a “poor understanding” of your area of work and would like to learn more. Can you help them out?

You think this is a reasonable and a not uncommon situation, so you agree. You get up early, give what you think is an interesting presentation, engage in an active Q&A session, get thanked by the organiser for making the effort and contributing your time and goodwill to foster greater understanding and intellectual debate within their department. You think that is that.

Only later that same day, the head of the department decides to complain to the national regulatory agency about what you said, claiming you are a risk to life and that you deserve to lose your professional accreditation.

This is the way that Dr Mark Schutze of the department of pain management at the Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Perth behaved towards me recently, calling me “a risk to his patients” and saying I did “not deserve registration as a medical practitioner”. He claimed I had promoted “instructions on how to suicide, and instructions on how to kill people” in a complaint to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency. Schutze used the hospital as his address, and it remains unclear as to whether he is representing the CGH in this matter or it is his personal professional complaint he has made.

In any event, Schutze’s complaint now forms the basis of a “notification” with AHPRA, which in turn will now decide if it will launch an investigation into my medical registration.

Schutze thinks I don’t deserve to call myself a doctor. The question now is: will the Australian Medical Board agree?

Under the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (WA) Act 2010, medical registration is provided under section 3(2)(a) “for the protection of the public by ensuring that only health practitioners who are suitably trained and qualified to practise in a competent and ethical manner are registered”.

Under section 52(1)(c) the person must be “suitable” to hold general registration in the health profession. Section 55 defines “unsuitability” as a person with an impairment, criminal history, lack of competency in speaking English, past experience in practising medicine competently or safely or, under section 55(1)(h)(i), not a fit and proper person.

It could be argued that as this is the third complaint to be made against me in three years, I should be used to the charade. In some ways I am. One of the other current complaints that has gone to the investigation stage with AHPRA in South Australia concerns my fit and proper character. Like the complaint made by Schutze, the other complaint was made by a person with views that don’t accord with my own. I’ve never been a member of the church-sponsored, pro-life sector. Never will be.

Needless to say I believe strongly in choice, and while I appreciate that others may not, I’d be the last person to try and ram my views down their throats. We can all agree to disagree. Naively, perhaps, on February 25 at 7.30am at CGH I thought that was where we’d leave discussion also. Apparently not, but why not?

Like many who speak regularly about the work that they do, I had assumed that a closed breakfast meeting to doctors and nurses at CGH would be governed by Chatham House Rules.  These rules are designed to increase openness of discussion and to allow those involved to express and discuss controversial opinions and arguments without suffering the risk of dismissal from their jobs.

Since my presentation to the hospital staff and since Schutze’s vexatious complaint to AHPRA, the convener of the breakfast presentations has stated overtly that Chatham House Rules apply. But then he’s had to do that as also since my presentation he is unsurprisingly short of speakers.

While I don’t practise medicine in any technical sense — my medical insurer has made a point that anything to do with the words “voluntary euthanasia” or “Exit International” is non-medical and hence beyond coverage — and as the founder of my own non-profit, I’m not “employed” by anyone. However, I still wouldn’t want to find myself relinquishing my medical registration simply because someone doesn’t agree with my ideas.

I can fully understand why other invited speakers wouldn’t want to take this risk either. Unlike me, they need their registration to keep their jobs at the hospital.

Speaking of past seminars on controversial topics, the CGH convener has acknowledged that while “I have often released disclaimers protecting the hospital, ourselves, etc. However, I failed to protect the speakers, which is what I now regret”. Indeed you should. Hence his newfound enthusiasm for those attending to agree in writing to Chatham House Rules in an attendance book at the door or be denied entry.

While I applaud CGH’s belated efforts to embrace freedom of speech in their professional development activities — if that is what its breakfast series of talks are — for me this courtesy is too little, too late.

Once again, I am forced to take time out from Exit International’s important work to turn my mind to defending myself and my ideas. I don’t really care that Mark Schutze thinks that voluntary euthanasia and other methods of self-deliverance are not needed because palliative care has all the answers, but I do care that he thinks he is un-categorically right and the rest of us are wrong. You know, Mark, we aren’t wrong. We are just think differently to you.

As the first man to use the Northern Territory’s Rights of the Terminally Ill Act back in 1996, Bob Dent, once said in an open letter to politicians:

If you disagree with voluntary euthanasia, then don’t use it, but don’t deny me the right to use it if and when I want to.”

The same applies to Schutze. Let’s hope AHPRA agree.

*Dr Philip Nitschke, a long-time euthanasia rights campaigner, is the author of the banned Peaceful Pill Handbook

14
  • 1
    stephen Matthews
    Posted Monday, 7 April 2014 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    I can well understand the trials and tribulations that accompany another episode of having to defend yourself Philip.
    And when it comes from inside the tent ..rather galling I am sure.It must rob you of the requisite spirit to fight on.
    I recall how defensive you were when I approached you to shake your hand and wish you the best .It was the look of the rabbit startled in the headlights .
    Maybe you need a good QC to help you this time . Why not start a defence fund at http://www.helpthedoctor.com
    Maybe a kickstarter campaign is needed.
    I will gladly contribute.

  • 2
    leon knight
    Posted Monday, 7 April 2014 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Keep up the good fight Dr Nitschke, there are lots of people like me in the wider community who are prepared to chip in crowd-funding to defend you if needed against (a) religious busy-bodies and (b) rich medicos defending their money-making turf….

  • 3
    rhwombat
    Posted Monday, 7 April 2014 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    Ah. Western Australian hospitality. Having discussed Schutze’s behaviour with several of our colleagues in WA, I think his future professional life in the public sector will be interesting. Keep up the good work.

  • 4
    Hugh (Charlie) McColl
    Posted Monday, 7 April 2014 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if Dr Schutze actually attended the ‘talk’ and also what the other people present at the function think about the Head of Department’s action?

  • 5
    gmedley
    Posted Monday, 7 April 2014 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations must go to Dr Mark Schutze for standing up to what this man has been doing all these years. He failed in the NT in 1996 and has been a failure ever since.

  • 6
    graybul
    Posted Monday, 7 April 2014 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    You’ve chosen a challenging path for your life work Phillip . . I and many friends thank you for the strength of your advocacy. The enforced hypocrisy smothering practice of caring for those who seek nothing other than to “pass” with dignity, is an affront!!

  • 7
    john ince
    Posted Monday, 7 April 2014 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    mark schultze ,of the closed mind,let him live his life to his standards and let others live to theirs.

  • 8
    zut alors
    Posted Monday, 7 April 2014 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    Your worthwhile struggle continues, Dr Nitschke. I second the first two posts - let us know if we can contribute to your cause. You have plenty supporters although some days it may not feel like it.

    I’m confident that when the palliative care bill explodes for Baby Boomers our government may eventually look for means to seriously trim the health budget. Giving people the opportunity to opt out of living won’t cost the public purse a thing - quite the contrary, there will be extra funds available for more productive areas of health &/or research.

  • 9
    Daly
    Posted Monday, 7 April 2014 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    I thank you Philip for your work and strength in pursuing it. Start the crowd funding, there are lots of us who would be happy to support you against those who want to impose their views on the rest of us.

  • 10
    amy robinsons
    Posted Monday, 7 April 2014 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    ditto daly

  • 11
    Tyger Tyger
    Posted Tuesday, 8 April 2014 at 12:14 am | Permalink

    gmedley@5: If I was diagnosed with a painful, incurable disease and was given the choice between a year or so of “life” involving suffering, mountains of stupefying drugs and being hooked up to “the machine that goes BING!”, or euthanasia, I’d probably choose the latter. What business is that of yours?
    I’m guessing you’ll invoke some sort of “spiritual” guff or other, none of which I believe in. Again, what business do you have imposing your religion (or philosophy, ideology, whatever the case may be) on me in such matters?
    You do whatever you like, but don’t tell me how to live, or end, my life.
    Best regards, Dr Nitschke.

  • 12
    CML
    Posted Tuesday, 8 April 2014 at 2:12 am | Permalink

    Bravo! Tyger and others above. I too would urge Dr Nitschke onwards, and think he should consider crowd funding, if required. Only too happy to contribute!

  • 13
    4567
    Posted Tuesday, 8 April 2014 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    This is an important battle. More strength to you Dr Nitschke. Speaking from personal experience I believe people should most definitely have the choice.

  • 14
    BookishMisfit
    Posted Tuesday, 8 April 2014 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    I support your ongoing work, Dr. Nitschke. Many in the medical profession would also support you, I think.

    My mother was given morphine to ease her last hours transition by medical staff and we are all grateful for that. I suspect it happens quite often and it is legitimate.

    The medical staff also adhered to Mum’s last request for no ‘heroic’ and unnecessary treatment. She was allowed to die with dignity with her daughter by her side. If she had been alone and without the support of family as advocates I wonder would her path have been so easy.

    People do have the right to choice and dignity in the manner of their death.

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