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Australian Physician to Unveil New Euthanasia Machine

Jan 07, 2003

Australia's leading death rights advocate Dr. Philip Nitschke, who has helped several terminally ill people end their lives, will fly to the United States on Wednesday to unveil his latest euthanasia machine.

Dr. Nitschke will present his device, which allows a person to inhale carbon monoxide to hasten death, at the national euthanasia conference of The Hemlock Society USA in San Diego starting Wednesday.

"It produces pure carbon monoxide for a person who is suffering and decides it is time to end the suffering. It will produce a peaceful death," Dr. Nitschke told Reuters Tuesday.

Dr. Nitschke said the unique aspect of the simple machine was that it could be used for therapeutic purposes, as it can also produce oxygen, and therefore could not be declared illegal.

"That was one of the design requirements," said Dr. Nitschke, who took a year to design and make the prototype machine with research funding from the American Hemlock Society.

"It will have a strong warning that if you put in different chemicals it will produce a peaceful death. So it just becomes a strategy, somewhat cynical, but a strategy nevertheless to frustrate any attempts at legislative control."

Dr. Nitschke gained international attention in 1997 when he assisted four patients to die in Australia's outback Northern Territory under the world's first voluntary euthanasia laws.

The four used a machine invented by Dr. Nitschke that allowed them to administer a lethal injection via a computer.

Australia's national government overturned the Northern Territory's 1996 euthanasia legislation within months. Euthanasia, as well as assisted suicide, is now illegal across Australia.

Despite the law being overturned, Dr. Nitschke has continued to run euthanasia workshops around Australia explaining to people how to end their lives using specialist equipment or drugs.

His latest euthanasia equipment is what he calls an "Exit Bag," a plastic bag with a drawstring which a person places over the head to suffocate.

Dr. Nitschke said his new euthanasia machine, of which there is currently only a prototype, could be built for as little as $57, but would not be sold to terminally ill patients.

"We are not going to sell the machine. It will be made available to our members, Exit Australia, once they have been members for 1 year," he said.

© 2003 Reuters Ltd