Submission (Amended & Final Version) From Right to Life New Zealand Inc.
Re: Classification of The Peaceful Pill Handbook (New Revised International Version) by Dr Philip Nitschke and Fiona Stewart
Right to Life on 12 May 2008 sought leave to apply for a review of the classification of the controversial suicide handbook, The Peaceful Pill Handbook [New Revised International Edition] authored by Dr Philip Nitschke and Fiona Stewart. Leave was sought under section 47 [e] of the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act (1993). The Office of Film and Literature Classification Office produced a decision on the 18th of March on the original edition of the book deeming it objectionable and declared it banned for sale or distribution within New Zealand.
Prima Facia Case for Review
Our Society contends that a prima facia case for the review of the classification of R18 exists for the following reasons.
Australian Classification Review Board
It is important to note that the original book had been banned in Australia on 25 February 2007 by the Classification Review Board in a unanimous decision by the seven member Board, as objectionable (it was classified RC – Refused Classification). It may now not be displayed, imported or sold in Australia. It is noted that this review took place following a complaint by Federal Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock. This classification was made following similar criteria to that used by the New Zealand OFLC. The fact that the book was banned in its entirety is, we believe, highly significant. The Australian Board did not see fit to invite the authors of the book, as did our OFLC, to make amendments and resubmit the amended book for reclassification.
The book The Peaceful Pill is now classified as R18 by the NZ OFLC. It was their intention to prevent the book from being seen by those under the age of 18 as it was considered that the book would be injurious to those young persons. It is contended that this objective may be easily frustrated. The book is available on the internet at Amazon.com. It is available in a hard copy for the price of $35US. It is advertised on this website with the following editorial review;
“The Peaceful Pill draws on the latest end of life choices, to bring the reader a range of practical and useful strategies. By applying Exit’s unique Reliability and Peacefulness Test; readers can compare methods including Nembutal from Mexico, the use of Helium, the Dignitas service of Switzerland, prescription drugs and the DIY Peaceful Pill. This new edition also contains full colour photos of Mexican drug names and the latest labelling. The book contains a word of caution, noting that the book is intended for “seriously ill and suffering people” and is “not” intended for those who are young or irrational or for people who are suffering from psychiatric illness or depression.”
There is no mention of this word of caution on the website of Amason. The book is freely available to any person of any age, the only criteria required for purchase of the book is that the purchaser has the purchase price of US$35.
It is understood that the original version of the book “The Peaceful Pill” will soon be available on Google Books downloadable for US$30. Dr Nitschke advised in an interview with The Melbourne Age, that it would be preferable for people in Australia to purchase the book from Google as there was less chance of people being caught breaking the law. This statement indicates sadly that Dr Nitschke has little respect for the law. In making this book available he has shown contempt for the censorship laws of Australia. Itl also shows his contempt for the current age restriction of R18 issued by the NZOFLCon the revised edition.
The OFLC has attributed good intentions to the author for producing this controversial book. Our Society believes that the intention of the author is to promote suicide as the solution for a person who believes that their life is intolerable and not worth living, for whatever reason. It is the opinion of this Society that the dominant effect of the publication as a whole is to advocate suicide and to give explicit details as to how one may carry out this act of murder of self. It should therefore be classified as objectionable in terms of sections 3 and 3.
It is contended that the only effective means available to prevent the book falling into the hands of a young person under the age of 18 years or a person who is depressed or suffering from a psychiatric condition, is to classify the book as objectionable. This would ensure that the book would be prevented from entering New Zealand. It would make it an offence under the FVPC Act to import the book by any means, including the internet. Furthermore, it could not be legally downloaded from the internet.
Government Suicide Prevention Action Plan
The government in March this year launched its five year Suicide Prevention Action Plan with the objective of saving lives and reducing New Zealand’s disturbingly high suicide rate.
There are approximately 500 suicides (self murders) reported each year in New Zealand. It is believed that there are many suicides that are not reported. Maori men and those living in deprived communities are most at risk. In 2006, 5400 people were treated at hospitals after intentionally harming themselves. If these people had the opportunity of reading The Peaceful Pill, it may be assumed that many of them would have successfully committed suicide. It is incongruous for the government to have introduced a plan to reduce suicide in our community, while at the same time the OFLCO allows a book, The Peaceful Pill, advocating suicide to be made available in New Zealand, to be sold widely throughout new Zealand. Our Society believes that the OFLC should support the government’s Action Plan by banning the book.
Human Rights Issue
This is an important human rights issue. Right to Life New Zealand is a national incorporated Society with an estimated 4,500 members. We are a Society that believes that it is self evident that all human beings are endowed at conception by their creator with inalienable human rights. The foundation of our human rights is our right to life. We are opposed to any attack on our right to life. We are therefore opposed to suicide, self murder which is an attack on our dignity as human persons and on our right to life. The United Nation Declaration of Human Rights states in the preamble;
“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”
It is important to note that the United Nations Declaration recognises that our human rights including our right to life are inalienable, being inalienable they may not be taken away from us, nor may we give them up. Our lives are not our own but belong to our Creator. We are therefore but stewards of our life and have no right to destroy our life. We note with concern that the notice of decision of the OFLC dated the 8 May infers that we have a right to take our own life.
It states The publication is a well intentioned-book that advocates law reform and gives advice to enable the seriously ill and elderly” to make carefully informed decisions about their own life, and death.”
Duty to Protect Life
It is the first duty of the State to protect the lives of its citizens from conception to natural death, especially the weak and vulnerable in society. The state recognises that suicide is a violation of human rights and is harmful not only to the individual whose life is destroyed but also to the common good. Parliament has expressed its opposition to suicide by enacting legislation in the Crimes Act section 179 to make it a serious crime to counsel, aid or abet in a suicide. Suicide is a terrible tragedy for the individual, the family and society. In a civilised society it is recognised that we all have a duty to promote a culture of life and oppose a culture of death. Suicide is an attack on a culture of life and promotes a culture of death. The suicide of a member of society wounds the social fabric and undermines the collective commitment to life that a healthy and viable society should have. It is contended that the OFLC, a Crown entity, as an agency of the legislature has a serious duty to promote a culture of life and oppose a culture of death.
NZ Bill of Rights – Freedom of Expression
Right to Life supports the Bill of Rights 1990. The Act states that everyone has “the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form”. It also states under section 5 of the Act, this freedom is subject” only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.
Right to Life contends that the OFLC were in serious error in allowing the book The Peaceful Pill to be judged as unobjectionable. Free speech is an important human right. As with all rights there are responsibilities. We may not use free speech in a manner that will harm another. The purpose of the book The Peaceful Pill is to provide information that will enable the reader to choose a method depicted in the book to destroy their life. Suicide, the murder of self, is the ultimate harm that a person may inflict on themselves. For this reason the freedom of speech is seen as being grossly and blatantly misused in this book. We therefore challenge the statement in the notice of decision which states;
“As repugnant as some members of the public may find the open discussion of voluntary euthanasia, suicide methods and the law, the New Zealand Bill of Rights preserves the author’s right to freedom of expression and to impart the information and opinions contained in the book in its present form.”
Submissions from other Organisations
Our society shares the concern of the NZ Police. The Senior Police Legal Advisor, Inspector Alistair Murray, stated in a submission on the original edition “that the Police believe that the publication of the book in certain circumstances would be a potential breach of the criminal law, in particular, section 179 of the Crimes Act 1961, which makes a person liable to 14 years imprisonment if that person “incites, counsels, or procures any person to commit suicide..
In the light of the Police Departments concerns, we believe that the book should be deemed objectionable.
Our Society also supports the submission of the Ministry of Health which stated in its submission on the original version of the book; That it should be classified as objectionable under section 3 of the FVPC Act because if the book was made accessible to the community, it would be of “interest to and read by people at risk of suicide as well as those contemplating euthanasia. The Department noted that the term suicide was used throughout the book confusing those two subjects.”
In the light of the serious concerns of the Ministry of Health we believe that the book should be deemed be deemed objectionable.
Age Concern Canterbury
It is important to draw your attention to the statements made by Mr Andrew Dickerson, Canterbury’s Aged Concern chief executive and member of the Canterbury District Health Board. They appeared in an article in the Christchurch Press, 12 May 2008, featuring the classification of the book “The Peaceful Pill”. Mr Dickenson said that he was horrified that the book would soon be available. Despite being rated for sale to those aged over 18, he predicted depressed vulnerable young people would get their hands on it with fatal results. “My aspirations for older people are also considerably higher than a book which promotes ways to kill themselves,”
Mr Dickerson has provided our Society with a written statement outlining his concerns with the book The Peaceful Pill to be associated with this submission.
Youth – Suicide
New Zealand has the highest male rate of youth suicide [15 – 24] and second highest female youth suicide rate compared to other Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development [OECD] countries. Youth [15 – 24] have a much higher rate of hospitalisation for intentional self-harm in 2002  cases per 100,000] than the total population [85.5 cases]. The New Zealand Health Strategy has identified reducing suicide and suicide attempts across all ages as a priority health objective.
Research has revealed that youth suicide is associated with depression. Our Society is deeply concerned that young vulnerable young persons who are suffering from deep depression will be at increased risk of committing suicide if they read this book The Peaceful Pill. It is contended that the classification of R 18 will not prevent determined young people from obtaining this book. Our Society is confident if parents were given the opportunity of expressing an opinion on this book, the overwhelming majority of them would strongly support the book being classified as objectionable.
Additional Matters to be Considered
Under section 3, the classification Office must consider the following matters:
Section 3 [a] The dominant effect of the publication of the publication as a whole.
The judgment states; “Upon the readers for whom it is intended, the seriously ill and elderly who are considering suicide, the dominant effect of this book will be reassurance, comfort and perhaps even empowerment. It is a well intentioned reference book written from the stand-point of advocates for legalised voluntary euthanasia…”
Our Society challenges this statement.d.
Euthanasia and suicide are being promoted by Dr Philip Nitschke as the right of those who are terminally ill. It is contended that his real agenda is to promote euthanasia and suicide as being a human right for persons of any age who are not terminally ill but have decided that life is not worth living.
I wish to refer you to an article entitled “Outrage as Healthy Woman Helped to Die” which appeared in the Sunday Star Times on Sunday 3 February 2008. A New Zealand woman who was not terminally ill killed herself with lethal Nembutal that she had smuggled home from Mexico after seeking advice from Dr Philip Nitschke. A friend of the woman had said that the 68 year old woman who had committed suicide was active but suffered severe depression. Dr Nitschke was interviewed for the article and was unrepentant over his role in the woman’s death, saying it was “arrogant and paternalistic” to review someone else’s decision about when to die. “You are not in her shoes. She obviously made an assessment and decided her life was not worth living any more. You can not simply look at the medical records”.
It is contended that the real agenda of the euthanasia movement is to promote euthanasia as a right to choose for any person of any age who believes that there life is not worth living. The website of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society New Zealand states on its home page;
“The Voluntary Euthanasia Society of New Zealand has as its object a change to the law to allow terminally ill patients or those whose quality of life has diminished to an unacceptable extent, the right to a peaceful death with dignity at a time of their choosing.” [Emphasis added]
The heavily redacted revised edition of the book with the headings remaining provides readers with an understanding of what has been blacked out, is an affront to the censorship laws of this country. This Society supports the right of Dr Nitschke to exercise his right to freedom of speech in advocating a change in the law to allow for euthanasia. There is however a clear distinction between advocacy and providing detailed information about how to commit suicide.
Section 3 [c] The character of the publication, including any merit, value or importance it has in relation to literary, artistic, social, cultural, educational, scientific or other matters.
The judgment states:
“The publication’s treatment of the issue of voluntary euthanasia has some merit in terms of social and scientific matters despite its sometimes over-enthusiastic emphasis on the do it yourself ethos of Exit International members. As such it contributes to the ongoing debate on voluntary euthanasia and highlights the realities of end of life choices for the terminally ill and the elderly.”
Our Society disputes this conclusion; we believe that the book has no social or scientific merit. We believe that it is morally reprehensible to be offering the terminally ill and the elderly the option of suicide as an acceptable end of life choice. A caring and compassionate society will provide appropriate palliative care which successfully provides effective pain relief. New Zealand is very fortunate in having excellent palliative care facilities. Members of the medical profession involved in providing this service are totally opposed to suicide as a choice. The NZ Medical Council has vehemently opposed the release of Dr Nischke’s book for sale and has strongly criticised the Exit International seminars he has held in NZ – teaching people how to unlawfully bring banned drugs into NZ and commit suicide.
Section 3  [d] The persons, classes of persons, or age groups of the persons to whom the publication is intended or is likely to be made available.
The OFLC classification decision acknowledges that the book may be available to those who are depressed and wish to end their lives, for reasons other than those normally held by Exit International members. As the book is expected to be obtained by depressed young persons under the age of 18 years of age, the book should be banned.
Section 3  [e] The purpose for which the publication is intended to be used.
The OFLC classification decision states:
“The original edition of the book was intended as a source of practical information for those intending suicide, and as a means of advocating the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia in which the seriously ill and elderly have access to a “peaceful pill”. Although the revised edition maintains its purpose of advocating law reform, it has become much less useful as a source of practical information in how to commit criminal activity.
It is contended that the book still promotes an unlawful activity. The book promotes use of the drug Nembutal as the preferred means for committing suicide. The revised edition has removed advice on how one may travel to Mexico to purchase this drug from veterinary pharmacists in Tijuana. Nembutal is a Class C prohibited drug, it is an offence against the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975, the import and possession of which is an offence under section 6 of the Act. As the book clearly promotes the possession and use of this lethal drug, it is in fact encouraging a criminal act. Dr Nitschke has acknowledged that he has taken an estimated 200 ‘terminally ill “ persons from Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand to Mexico to purchase the drug Nembutal. It is expected that the availability of the book will encourage more persons to contact Dr Nitschke for advice on purchasing the drug in Mexico. These actions are unlawful and may only be discouraged by the banning of the book in New Zealand.
The Meaning of “Objectionable”
Section 3 of the FVPC Act sets out the meaning of the word “objectionable”. The section states that a publication is objectionable if it:
Describes, depicts, expresses, or otherwise deals with such matters such as sex, horror, crime, cruelty, or violence in such a manner that the availability of the publication is likely to be injurious to the public good.
Suicide, self murder, is not a crime in New Zealand. However, the Crimes Act, section 179 makes it abundantly clear that aiding and abetting suicide is a crime against the person. There have been two Death with Dignity Bills brought to Parliament in recent years. The first was the Private Members Bill of Michael Laws of 1995, that was defeated by 61 to 29 at its first reading. The second Private Members Bill was brought to Parliament in 2003 and was defeated at its first reading 60 to 57. It is clear from these two vigorous Parliamentary debates that there is majority opposition to having Parliament even consider legislation to legalise assisted suicide and the killing of patients by their doctors.
Suicide is a tragedy for the person who kills themselves, a great tragedy for the family of the deceased and a tragedy for the community. Our society, our human family has a social contract that we respect our own life and the lives of others in the community. Suicide is a violation of that important social contract.
It is contended that the book also promotes and supports violence. Self murder is the ultimate in violence against oneself. It also inflicts intense emotional violence against the deceased’s family and friends. It is the view of this Society that the book is likely to be injurious to the public good and should, in the interest of the common good, be reclassified as objectionable and banned.
Right to Life New Zealand Inc.
This Submission was sent to
Mr Brendan Boyle,
Internal Affairs Department,
22 May 2008