Suicide, Canadian Law, and Exit International's "Peaceful Pill"
Ogden, Russel D
Health law in Canada 2010 Nov; 31(2): 37-52
Australia's Exit International ("Exit") is probably the most visible and controversial right-to-die organization in the world. Founded by Dr. Philip Nitschke, Exit is known for do-it-yourself ("DIY") suicide workshops and a book banned in Australia: The Peaceful Pill Handbook. In 2009, Exit held its first workshop in Canada. Due to legal concerns, the Vancouver Public Library reneged on a commitment to give Exit a venue, so the workshop proceeded in the sanctuary of a church hall. This article summarizes the history of suicide law in Canada and gives an overview of the emerging DIY movement. A case report describes how a Canadian woman studied Exit's literature and learned how to import veterinary pentobarbital. In accordance with Exit's information, she ended her life. Ethical and legal implications for researching DIY suicide are discussed and it is argued that prohibition contributes to an undesirable situation of uncontrolled and unregulated suicide. Whether they are prohibited, permitted, or tolerated, suicide and assisted suicide are controversial. Their legal treatment in Canada is conflicting because suicide is not a crime but it is a serious offense to assist, encourage, or counsel someone to suicide. Individuals can lawfully take their lives, but they must act independently. This legal situation has given rise to a do-it-yourself ("DIY") right-to-die movement dedicated to technologies and information to enhance the possibilities for planned and humane suicide, while limiting the legal exposure of sympathetic third parties (Martin, 2010; Ogden 2001). My aim is to summarize the legal history of suicide in Canada and discuss the emerging social movement for DIY suicide and assistance in suicide. Exit International ("Exit"), based in Australia, is a leading organization in this movement. I present a case report that describes how a Canadian woman ended her life using DIY techniques learned from Exit. Some ethical and legal implications for researching DIY suicide are discussed. I argue that the DIY movement is an undesirable consequence of prohibition.
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