'Dr. Death' Breaks Down Techniques for Suicide

Photo: Dr. Philip Nitschke explains how to kill oneself using a plastic bag. Nitschke runs an organization called Exit International and advises people to plan ahead because they might want to kill themselves one day.

In a drab church hall in Brighton, on England's southern coast, Dr. Philip Nitschke explains how to kill oneself using a plastic bag.

"If you did just get a bag and put it over your head," he tells the crowd of 60 or so, "it doesn't take long before you'd find it very, very unpleasant. That's not how this method works."

Nitschke then plays a video that outlines his preferred method. The video has an upbeat soundtrack and is presented by an elderly lady called Nurse Betty.

Meet the Doctor of Death
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"We've chosen a large-size oven bag," she explains with a smile. "Mainly because that fits all size heads, small and big."

Some in today's crowd are terminally ill, but most aren't. Not yet, anyway. Nitschke runs an organization called Exit International and advises people to plan ahead because they might want to kill themselves one day.

Nitschke, a straight-talking Australian who studied at the University of Adelaide, Flinders University and Sydney University, has been investigated by police and hounded by protesters for years. He admits that he pushes the limits of biblical and civil law.

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Nitschke, 61, was detained last month at London's Heathrow Airport for 11 hours on his way to Brighton. Immigration officials eventually decided that Nitschke merely provides information about suicide and does not encourage people to take their own lives. Encouraging suicide is illegal in Britain and most other places.

But Nitschke was allowed into Britain carrying drug-testing kits. Using one of the kits, a potentially suicidal person can make sure that the drugs he or she plans to use are strong enough to kill. Nitschke also brought with him the "exit bag" and assorted paraphernalia used to demonstrate killing oneself with a plastic bag and helium.

"We tell them about how they can control the gas flow using a fitting that fits onto a cylinder of helium," Nitschke says just before his Brighton meeting. He says that without his information, most people wouldn't know how to gas themselves efficiently. "That's true," he says. "They'd probably go out and hang themselves. This is peaceful, it's quick, it works."

'Dr. Death': The Virtues of Planning Ahead

Most people at the Brighton meeting are not terminally ill and do not plan to kill themselves anytime soon. But they're taking Nitschke's advice and planning ahead.

"I've come out of this meeting extremely heartened, knowing that there are options should I ever decide to bow out," one man says.

"I've seen both my parents go fairly nastily," another one says. "I don't want to go the same way."

Nitschke says, "Look, the premier drug for ending life is Nembutal, the barbiturate," which is the drug that his kits are designed to test. "There should be a bright-blue color change. If there is, you know you're dealing with Nembutal."

He lifts a syringe out of the small plastic box adorned with the Exit International logo. "By the slow addition of the component in the third ampoule here, the amount needed to turn it back into a colorless liquid gives you an idea of what the strength of the Nembutal must have been in this bottle."

This, Nitschke argues, is information and not encouragement. He plans to sell the kits on the Internet for about $50. "It's not illegal," he says. "There's nothing illegal about this kit. It's a testing-drug kit."

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