In April 2005, KILLING ME SOFTLY was released by Exit International.
Killing Me Softly: Voluntary Euthanasia and the Road to the Peaceful Pill explains the philosophy behind Dr Philip Nitschke's life work at Exit International.
Part biography, part political call to arms, Killing Me Softly documents:
- most specifically the 'universal model' offered by the 'Peaceful Pill' which could revolutionise voluntary euthanasia, just as the contraceptive pill transformed birth control a generation ago.
In December 2007, Perth woman Erin Berg called Exit International saying that she wished to attend one of their workshops. After hearing more of her details, they explained to her that:
... she does not fit our criteria and Exit is unable to help her.
In May 2008, she left West Australia and travelled to Tijuana in Mexico. There she took the horse tranquilliser Nembutal, and died on May 10th in hospital.
A friend of Erin Berg wrote to Exit on May 5th linking KILLING ME SOFTLY with her suicide attempt.
Correspondence between Noela Cerutti and Dr Philip Nitschke
5th May 2008
I am truely horrified at the information you make so freely available on your internet and also in Nitschke published books especially "Killing me Softly".
A transcript of Erin Berg's initial contact with Exit, and the full text of Noela Cerutti's e-mail, can be found at the Exit International website.
New Calls to Ban Euthanasia Book
9 July 2008
The sisters of a psychiatrically ill woman who travelled to Tijuana Mexico to suicide are lobbying the Federal Attorney General Robert McClelland to ban Exit International Director Dr Philip Nitschke’s book Killing Me Softly. They claim the book contributed to the death of their sister.
Dr. Nitschke said today: “We extend our deepest sympathies to the family of Ms Berg for her tragic death and we appreciate how upset they must be. However, it should be clearly understood that we do not carry any responsibility for her death.
“Any reasonable person, having all the facts, will come to that conclusion. Firstly, I have never met or spoken with Ms Berg. Secondly, our workshops are restricted to people aged 50 years over with no psychiatric condition or who are terminally ill.
“Ms Berg was not allowed to join Exit, let alone attend a workshop, due to the professional assessment made of her by our qualified and experienced admissions nurse. Our nurse has over 10 years experience assessing people for end of life options. She assessed Erin as not suitable due to her psychiatric history”.
Erin Berg travelled to Tijuana in April 2008, four months after first making contact with Exit. There it is thought that she attempted to purchase Nembutal.
It is unclear what drug or drugs she did obtain, however she subsequently died in San Diego. Erin Berg’s sisters are accusing Nitschke of publishing information, which leaves the psychiatrically ill at risk of self-harm.
According to Philip Nitschke, the book in question contains no practical information which can be used by a person who wishes to suicide.
“When Penguin published Killing Me Softly back in 2005, their lawyers went over the book with a fine tooth comb, ensuring that this was truly a philosophical examination on the end of life choices debate. What Ms Berg’s sisters are effectively saying is that books of ideas should be banned.”
“While Erin’s death is truly tragic” said Nitschke today, “it is not appropriate that blame be directed at Exit. Our records show we did not engage with this woman and, unfortunately, there was nothing we could do to assist her due to her psychiatric condition” he said.
“Psychiatric patients need support from the health system. Our organisation should not be held responsible when the system fails.”
Exit International extends their condolences to the family of Erin Berg.
Perth family lash out after mum's suicide death
perthnow.com.au, October 12, 2008
Two of Ms Berg's three sisters, Sally and Chris Doyle rushed to Mexico on May 2, and were appalled by what they saw.
They are also furious that Dr Nitschke's book Killing Me Softly, which describes Nembutal as "the best'' drug to kill yourself with, is freely available and are calling on the federal government to ban it.
The book states that when taken with alcohol, "this clear, odourless liquid with a bitter taste provides a fast, peaceful and pain-free death.''
It explains that while Nembutal is only available to vets in Australia (for euthanasing animals), it is easily available in Mexico.
"What Nitschke fails to point out in his books is that Tijuana is effectively a war zone,'' Sally Doyle said.
"t's a major drug capital and we couldn't even get access to the hospital where Erin was because it was under armed guard.''
When the sisters were eventually allowed into the intensive care unit -- for five minute sessions no more than three times a day -- they found a filthy, ill-equipped ward where nurses did not bother to wash their hands, and where soldiers with machine guns prowled the corridors.
They were able to get Ms Berg transferred to a private hospital at a cost of more than US$8000 a day, where she died "the most cruel, slow and awful death imaginable,'' Sally Doyle said.
After six weeks at the unit, Ms Berg's case was reviewed by the Mental Health Review Board. The board reviews over 1000 patients a year, of which just a tiny fraction (4-5 per cent) have their involuntary status lifted.
The board revoked Ms Berg's involuntary order on March 31, enabling her to discharge herself the next day.
Ms Doyle said the family were outraged when they learned, several days later, of her release -- the board had since refused to provide any reasons for its decision.
She said staff at the unit had found an itinerary for flights to Mexico, a passport application and traveller's cheques amongst her sister's belongings, as well as an overdue library slip for a copy of "Killing Me Softly''.
A spokesman for Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland said his office had received a letter from Ms Berg's family asking for ``Killing Me Softly'' to be reclassified, which he said had been forwarded to the office of Home Affairs Minister Bob Debus for consideration.
However, Dr Nitschke said he was not responsible for Ms Berg's death and was concerned that his book could be reclassified as a result of the family's lobbying.
He said Ms Berg had phoned his euthanasia foundation Exit International in December but she had been refused help because she was suffering mental illness.
"Obviously what happened is very distressing but I don't know what else we could have done,'' he said.
"The book (Killing Me Softly) is not a how-to (suicide) guide.
"We need to be able to have public discussion on these issues.''
Ms Berg's family disagree. They say the book can be easily obtained by the mentally ill, teenagers and other non-terminally ill people.
"It is a publicly available book which you can buy in Dymock's or take out of your local library -- even school libraries have it,'' Sally Doyle said.
"Erin had underlined all the key passages in the copy we found at her home, and it gave her all the information she needed to take her life.'
Euthanasia book could be banned from sale in Aust
canberratimes.com.au, October 24, 2008
Killing me softly, could be banned in Australia after a Classification Board hearing expected to take place next week.
Dr Nitschke said Attorney-General Robert McClelland had referred the book to the board. The board's decision to hold a classification hearing is unusual, given Penguin Australia published the book more than three years ago.
It is understood the Attorney-General was reacting to newspaper reports that a Perth mother, Erin Berg, who committed suicide in May after travelling to Mexico, had read the book, which describes euthanasia drugs sold overseas.
Mrs Berg was suffering from serious post-natal depression but was not inflicted with a terminal illness.
The chairman of the Classification Board, Donald McDonald, contacted Penguin Australia earlier this month and asked the publisher to submit a copy of the book that was written by Dr Nitschke and his partner Fiona Stuart.
Dr Nitschke, who was on his way back to Australia from Britain after establishing an on-line site for his controversial The Peaceful Pill Handbook, said Mr McClelland was reacting to pressure from what he claimed was a campaign being organised by the family of Mrs Berg.
''The book Killing me Softly has about one sentence referring to the fact that people go overseas to obtain euthanasia drugs,'' he said.
Dr Nitschke said the book was largely a discussion of the issue and had been used in school curriculum. Penguin Australia publishing director Robert Sessions said any ban on the book could cause significant disruption.
There were few copies of the book in bookstores and the ban would mostly inconvenience libraries.
''I submitted the book under protest,'' Mr Sessions said. He stressed that the publication was thoroughly examined by lawyers before publication and was a legitimate contribution to an important debate.
The Classification Board refused to confirm the reference had come from the Attorney-General's office, as alleged by Dr Nitschke.
A spokesperson for the Attorney-General refused to comment and said all matters regarding classification were dealt with by the Home Affairs Minister, Bob Debus, whose portfolio is part of the Attorney-General's Department.
In November 2008, the 354-page KILLING ME SOFTLY: VOLUNTARY EUTHANASIA AND THE ROAD TO THE PEACEFUL PILL was passed with an Unrestricted rating by the Classification Board.
Annual Report 2008-2009
The Director has the power to call in publications for classification where reasonable grounds exist to believe that an unclassified publication is a submittable publication, being published in an Australian jurisdiction. I called in the publications that were unclassified. If a distributor did not comply with a call in notice, the Department was asked to advise law enforcement agencies.
During the reporting period, I also called in other publications which came to my attention. These publications were...
....a book about euthanasia.
Dr Philip Nitschke's THE PEACEFUL PILL HANDBOOK was banned by the Classification Board in 2007. This case is covered in our Book and Magazine Censorship Database.