October 15th 2011

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Articles from this issue:

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Gillard Government undeterred by growing voter backlash

EDITORIAL: Gillard's Asian foray is deeply flawed


CIVILISATION: Is culture more powerful than politics?

RETAILING: Dick Smith blasts Coles' "extreme capitalism"

ECONOMIC AFFAIRS: Still coming to grips with the global financial crisis

CLIMATE CHANGE: Nobel laureate breaks consensus over global warming

UNITED STATES: New Republican candidate for the White House

UNITED STATES: Gay agenda mandatory in California schools

TAIWAN: Taiwan celebrates centenary of Republic

EUTHANASIA: Nitschke, Nembutal and the TGA

OPINION: The error of demonising carbon "polluters"

OPINION: Robert Manne and the Quadrant affair

TRIBUTE: Max Crockett remembered

BOOK REVIEW The rise and fall of the New Left

BOOK REVIEW Cultural suicide

Books promotion page

QUEENSLAND: Brisbane ill-prepared for coming wet season


Nitschke, Nembutal and the TGA

by Paul Russell

News Weekly, October 15, 2011

For some time now, Australian euthanasia campaigner Dr Philip Nitschke has been claiming that he had discovered a loophole in the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s procedures and protocols that would allow him to import into Australia the suicide drug Nembutal, the so-called peaceful pill.

The Adelaide Advertiser (September 26, 2011) reported that “Nitschke has gained permission to import a drug used in voluntary euthanasia”. Not so. Nor was there any “loophole”.

On the same day as this article appeared, the TGA gave the following explanation:

• The TGA has not approved the use of Nembutal by Dr Nitschke.

• Dr Nitschke has notified the TGA that he intends to use Nembutal for a patient under Category A of the Special Access Scheme (SAS).

• Category A of the SAS is intended to allow doctors to treat life-threatening diseases with medicines that may not yet have gone through formal clinical trials.

• Use of unregistered medicines under Category A of the SAS requires the use to be in accordance with good medical practice, but does not involve any approval process by the TGA.

• The TGA has written to Dr Nitschke advising him of these requirements and of the need for him to ensure that his prescribing is in accordance with good medical practice.

• There is a clear process for doctors to follow in order to import and prescribe unapproved drugs, and if Dr Nitschke does not follow appropriate clinical practice, he could face a range of serious sanctions from professional bodies.

• There are strong safeguards in place to ensure that practitioners act in accordance with good medical practice, and professional bodies have very high standards in place so that this occurs.

The conditions under which an “unregistered medicine” could be used seem to indicate that Nembutal would not qualify. It is not a drug which is “yet (to) have gone through formal clinical trials”; it could not be construed as “a treatment” in the ordinary understanding of that term, nor could it be said that prescribing Nembutal would be “good medical practice” given the fact that for use as a sedative, there are any number of legally available, effective alternatives.

But, of course, providing a good night’s sleep is not really what this is all about.

The Advertiser article quoted Nitschke as saying: “The drugs will be provided to her (a Victor Harbor patient) with clear instructions. They are to help her sleep.

“If she breaches those instructions she will be aware there are significant dangers….”

“The patient will also have to sign a statutory notification that she is aware of the risks associated with taking more than one tablet a night to help her sleep.”

Nothing new here. All prescription drugs come with instructions and, where there are possibilities of significant side-effects, warnings. The statutory declaration seems to be something Nitschke himself cooked up as a protection mechanism.

The Advertiser added: “Dr Nitschke said there was not much doubt that Nembutal was the best end-of-life drug.” Indeed.

Nembutal was at one time used as a sedative. However, its use ceased because of inherent dangers and the high risk of addiction. It remains in use in veterinary practice to euthanase animals, and its only use in humans, in places such as Switzerland and Oregon, is to kill them.

Euthanasia supporters can often be heard to say, “We put dogs out of their misery — why not humans?” This implies either that we wish to treat dogs like humans or humans like dogs.

Either way, Nembutal’s only use is to that end. Nitschke is kidding us to suggest otherwise.

Paul Russell is director of the national network, HOPE: Preventing Euthanasia & Assisted Suicide www.noeuthanasia.org.au and vice-chairman of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition International. 

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