'God's waiting room' hosts an audience with Dr Death
An Australian euthanasia activist staged the first of a series of "suicide workshops" in Britain yesterday, in a town affectionately termed "God's waiting room" due to its elderly population.
Almost 100 people attended the event, held at a hotel in Bournemouth, to listen to Dr Philip Nitschke lay out the options for people wishing to kill themselves.
The doctor promoted his DIY suicide kit, which included an "exit bag" to use as a suffocation device and a selection of powerful drugs from Mexico. The vast majority of his audience were of retirement age, many of them married couples.
During his presentation, Dr Nitschke detailed various legal loopholes which could allow medical professionals to legally assist suicide. The crowd were also shown a mocked-up DIY suicide video featuring a pensioner called Betty, who was seen fashioning a special plastic bag with which to kill herself.
The doctor also promoted his "Deliverance Machine" – which tests drugs to make sure they are strong enough to kill people – and screened video testaments recorded by people who had killed themselves after contracting terminal illnesses.
Dr Nitschke, who founded the right-to-die organisation Exit International, said: "We were aware of the demographic in Bournemouth. We knew that there was a lot of retired folk down here. The people that generally join Exit are well, elderly folk who are interested in this issue.
"They want options, they want choices. They know the choices or changes to legislation are likely to occur one day but they don't have the time to wait."
The Australian doctor flew into the UK on Saturday, but was detained at Heathrow airport for nine hours for questioning by immigration officials before he was eventually issued with a one-week visa. Assisted suicide is currently illegal in the UK and carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in jail.
Dr Nitschke will continue his tour of the country today, speaking in Brighton before continuing to Stroud and finally Glasgow on Saturday. Although the initial talks are open to all, anyone who wants to attend more "in-depth" workshops must be over 50 or seriously ill, and be a member of Exit, for which there is a £25 charge.
The doctor added: "People see it as a fundamental right, the right to decide that if your life is not worth living that you should be able to end that life. We provide people with information. That information allows them to make valid choices."
One of the people who attended yesterday's event was Charles Beech, 76, from Ringwood in Hampshire.
He said: "I often observe elderly people suffering long, lingering deaths. Let's get it organised, let's be fair to everyone. Why should it be so important for people to suffer an awful life? It is so wrong. In pain, agony and despair, it should be stopped."
Another member of the audience, Peter King, 66, from Christchurch in Dorset, added: "I think he [Dr Nitschke] is brilliant. I think in 50 years time this whole thing of letting people suffer will be looked back on like when they burnt witches."
Dr Nitschke, from Darwin in Australia, successfully campaigned for the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia in Australia's Northern Territory in 1996, after which he administered lethal injections to four people. However, the Australian federal government overturned the law nine months later.