Death coaching

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Death coaching: a mourning mother’s rage at son’s ‘assisted exit’

July 25, 2014 12:00AM

THE term “death coaching” is how Judi Taylor describes the tragic suicide of her 26-year-old son Lucas in a deserted park in Germany.

Death coaching: a mourning mother’s rage at son’s ‘assisted exit’

“It was death-coaching, not life coaching, that killed him,” says the Melbourne mother of three sons.

Lucas, a talented linguist, ended his life after taking a ­euthanasia drug he had bought in Peru. Judi Taylor says her son’s every step and every instruction — and strong encouragement — came from a Peaceful Pill online forum run by Exit International, the pro-euthanasia lobby group run by now-suspended medical practitioner Philip Nitschke.

Dr Nitschke has declared he will mount an appeal after being suspended by the Medical Board of Australia following his admission he supported 45-year-old Perth man Nigel Brayley in his ­decision to commit suicide, despite knowing he was not terminally ill.

He will be suspended until the end of September pending further investigation by the board.

BeyondBlue chairman Jeff Kennett yesterday welcomed the decision, saying “We cannot allow the debate to start that it’s all right for a 16 year old — or a 45 year old — simply because they’re having an off day to attempt to take their own life.”

It is the case of Lucas Taylor, whose unpublicised suicide ­occurred in April 2012, and his mother’s detailed plea to the medical board that may have sealed Dr Nitschke’s fate. Lucas spent many hours chatting online with fellow paid-up members of Exit Inter­national, who are sent an ebook copy of Dr Nitschke’s writing on euthanasia as part of their fee.

It was a secretive world that Judi Taylor discovered only after his death, when she and her ­remaining sons hacked into his computer, found his Peaceful Pill forum password and began reading a bizarre and grim litany of ­online conversations.

“There seemed to be hundreds of people busy talking to each other about the best methods to commit suicide,” she says.

“Lucas mentioned in his posts that he’d learned about importing illegal drugs and what airports to use. One person would say: ‘Oh, Nembutal’s the way to go.’ They’d discuss whether the best place to go was China or Peru.

“It seemed to be peer-to-peer communication, and in all the hundreds of messages nobody was saying they had a terminal illness ... What Lucas definitely said was ‘I’m not sick yet’ and ‘I’m quite able-bodied’.”

There were even messages to Lucas from a “moderator” Mrs Taylor describes as calling himself Doctor Ted. “He seemed to come in when a medical query needed answering.” He told Lucas ‘because of your weight, you’ll be needing this much Nembutal’.”

The mother, who had spoken regularly to her son overseas via Skype — and had seen no outwards signs of depression — could barely believe what she was reading, for hours online, tracking his methodical “coaching” descent towards suicide.

“He searched around for the method, and then for the best way to get it. People on the site were saying, ‘I’m going to import it from China’ and others would reply, ‘Don’t do that, I’m going to Mex­ico. Who would like to go with me?’

Lucas was “death-coached”, Judi Taylor says, by an organisation that seemed indifferent to the fact that young, healthy subscribers were talking up their own deaths. Or that some of them may have a mental illness.

“One fellow was writing to Lucas and saying, ‘I’m going to Mexico and I’m going to the undertakers there, I’ll give them $20 and an address and tell them to pick me up in half an hour. Then there’s no body problem.’ That’s not rational thought.”

Two weeks ago, Judi Taylor was rung by the Australian Medical Board and told a decision about Dr Nitschke’s medical registration was “imminent”. She knew they were responding to controversy over his admission he supported 45-year-old man Brayley in his decision to commit ­suicide, despite knowing he was not terminally ill.

The board appears to have also closely studied Lucas Taylor’s death, sent in full, documented ­detail by Judi Taylor soon after news his body had been found.

The news had come after the agony of two weeks’ phone silence from Lucas, then a letter from the German railway authority.

“They wrote to say Lucas’s suitcase hadn’t been picked up. I rang them and said, ‘Open up his suitcase.’ They said: ‘There’s clothes and his computer.’ I knew the worst, because he never went without it.”

She reported him as a missing person to police and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. “They weren’t very receptive; they said: ‘He’s probably out partying somewhere.’ ”

Only by hacking into the computer did the family learn what ­really happened. “We never knew that Lucas had got on a plane in October 2011 to Peru for a few days. People advised him on the forum site to book a few tours so people wouldn’t be suspicious about why he was there. They also said: ‘Here’s the address, and the cost of buying Nembutal.’ As far as I can make out he followed it all to the letter.

“When he got back (to Germany), he was back on the site saying, ‘I’ve got (the drug) and it’s pure because I’ve had it tested.’ I know Dr Nitschke supplies testing kits to make sure you’ve got the right drug. It was all very sec­retive: they talked about ­dis­guising the death scene, emptying out bottles of
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on the ground and throwing them around, getting cigarettes so it looked as if you’d just had a wild night and you’d fallen over and died by misadventure. And that would avoid an autopsy.”

It didn’t. An autopsy report said the cause of death was Nembutal. “The Interpol report said when Lucas’s body was discovered there were bottles and cigarettes scattered around him. Lucas didn’t drink or smoke. I thought: ‘That’s just what they said on the forum.’ ”

The suspension of Dr Nitschke’s licence was welcomed by South Australian Health Minister Jack Snelling and AMA branches in Western and South Australia, where Dr Nitschke first registered. WA AMA vice-president Andrew Miller said: “Our profession is relieved to be rid of him and wish to assure the community we will always help those with treatable illnesses to recover and live.”

Mr Snelling said he wanted to ensure “Dr Nitschke and his abhorrent views aren’t being practised in a medical context here in South Australia’’.

To Judi Taylor, who lives in Mount Eliza in southeast Melbourne, the suspension came as no surprise. After watching a 7.30 item, she contacted another family whose son, Joe Waterman, 25, died after Exit International contact. “Both of our boys obviously suffered from a deep, hidden depression and both Joe’s mother Mary and I believe they got a form of death coaching, not life coaching.” Before her son’s death, Judi Taylor felt terminally ill people might have a reason to seek euthanasia.

“I thought maybe that’s a fair thing, but I now have a different view. I don’t blame Philip Nitschke 100 per cent because Lucas made that decision, but he was encouraged and urged by using his suicide forum. It was like a victimless crime, all bases were covered.

“I would like to see a public inquiry into Exit International and ultimately have the Peaceful Pill website taken down. My son cannot be helped now, but there will be others — ­guaranteed.”

Additional reporting: Meredith Booth

If you are depressed or contemplating suicide, help is available at Lifeline on 131 114


The Australian National Newspaper




 
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