An international right-to-die movement is developing methods of facilitating assisted death which are “simple, painless, inexpensive and impossible to trace”, according to a feature in Scientific American. A small group called NuTech, led by Canadian John Hofsess, Australian Philip Nitschke, and American Derek Humphry is working on solutions like: comfortable plastic bags over the head, toxic but painless gases, fast-acting lethal barbiturates, and enhanced natural poisons, such as those found in hemlock or blowfish.
An unorthodox Canadian researcher, Russel Ogden, has dedicated his life to studying what he calls the “deathing counterculture”, or underground euthanasia. He acknowledges that there are serious drawbacks to the movement’s aims, despite his enthusiasm for his topic. There is no medical or counselling personnel to ensure mental competence, no informed consent and no exploration of treatment alternatives. He feels that the NuTech practice will be difficult to police and protect from abuse.
Mr Ogden began his studies in Vancouver in the early 1990s with a master’s thesis on a network of people who were helping AIDS patients kill themselves. At the time, he found that many of these deaths were a far cry from the “good death” described by euthanasia activists. Of 34 cases, half were botched and resulted in increased suffering. Failed attempts sometimes led to the person taking several hours to die — and in one case, four days. Because he refused to cooperate with police inquiries, Ogden found it impossible to continue with his research in Canadian universities and is now completing a study of the NuTech movement at the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands.
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