In the interview he expressed outrage at being frequently described as someone who advocated that troubled teens should be assisted to commit suicide, claiming that he had been misrepresented on the basis of an interview he’d done with a US right-wing magazine. Yet when Denton took him through the details of the question as to how this ‘myth’ had arisen, he didn’t actually deny any of the logical steps that led to this conclusion.
That is: he stood by his definition of an adult as someone over 18, noting that such a person was being sent off to kill people in a war. And he further believed that suicide was a choice that should be open to those who wanted it. And that should they want it, then we should be allowed to help them get what they want.
So the idea that Nitschke would agree with assisting the death of a ‘troubled teen’ may be to focus on a part of his logic that he doesn’t like; but this is a long way away from being an urban myth. In fact, it very much sounded to me as if he’d confirmed the truth of it.
Part of his outrage rests on the fact that as a general rule, he only opens his assisted suicide seminars to people over the age of 65. so he is not advocating helping kill troubled teens willy-nilly. But unfortunately for his logic, it is not a rule without multiple individual exceptions, one of which is referred to here in the July 2007 issue of Exit International, where his view—that long-term prisoners who want to die should be assisted to do so—is repeated.
Here's the relevant part of the transcript from the Denton interview, with apologies for Dr Nitschke's language:
ANDREW DENTON: You were quoted in a US magazine called National Review as saying that your workshops were potentially for the elderly, for the bereaved, for the depressed or the troubled teen. Is that a correct quote?
PHILIP NITSCHKE: No, that’s a not a correct quote and I didn’t exactly say that. They, I got asked in this, a long ranging interview by National Review, sort of right wing journal in the US, about what my beliefs were about this issue, about who should have control. And I outlined the idea that I thought that people had to be adult — we’re not talking about children — and they had to be mentally well. In other words able to give accurate, valid consent. And they said “Oh adults?” I said at that point, “Yeah, adults.” And she said, the interview if I remember vividly, “Oh you mean like an 18 year old?” And I said “Yeah, that’s an adult.” You know an 18 year old, you can go off and kill people in war, that’s an adult. They said “So you basically saying that 18 year olds should have access to these best drugs.” Next thing I know, I’m ad, I’m advocating suicide…
ANDREW DENTON: But did you, how did you answer that question?
PHILIP NITSCHKE: Well I said “Yes,” stupidly.
ANDREW DENTON: Why did you allow yourself to be to be so caught out there, to give so much ammunition to your opposition?
PHILIP NITSCHKE: Yeah, well I mean, look it was a mistake to have said that because at the time what I hadn’t factored in, as much as I now do, is this idea that you have to have life experience, so I can see good reason, and I’m quite happy with that good reason.
ANDREW DENTON: How did you not know that then?
PHILIP NITSCHKE: Well, I guess I was, I think I was, I think I was caught. There’s always every meeting I go to now someone will leap up the back of the yard and say “You’re the person who said that troubled teens should have access to the peaceful pill.” And I think “Oh Christ I’m never, I’m never going to live this down,” and it’s a mistake and I wish I hadn’t said it but I said it.
Yes, you did say it. And nothing you've said since then really offers genuine reassurance that you didn't mean it, Dr. Nitschke.