THE ‘right to die’ campaigner dubbed Dr Death is to perform stand-up comedy at this years Edinburgh Fringe.
Philip Nitschke was the first medic in the world to administer a legal, lethal injection and has become known for inventing DIY suicide devices to allow ailing patients to end their lives.
And Chortle, a specialist comedy website, has revealed that he will be heading to Edinburgh in the summer to perform a variety of comedy shows satirising some of the issues surrounding euthanasia.
The 67-year-old Australian, who founded the controversial pro-euthanasia group Exit International, admits that some audiences will be shocked at his light-hearted approach to the subject.
But he believes that jokes help get his message across, and even uses them in workshops advising patients about ending their lives.
He said: “Yes, there will be some criticism for ‘trivialising’ the topic – it’s something we’ll need to watch.
“I’ve seen this as I tried to make the end-of-life workshops more entertaining. The 70-year-olds liked the jokes, but those much younger were often shocked at the apparent levity of these events.
“This says something about our inability to face our own deaths, except when we are forced to by age.”
He added that he had often been the “entertaining” speaker at conferences, events and political rallies, saying: “What I noted was that the more the crowds laughed, the more the underlying issue got aired.
“With the euthanasia issue, meetings can become very funny affairs as the jokes are told, points made, and the 80-year-old laughs along.
Dr Nitschke revealed in his 2013 biography ‘Damned If I Do’ that he would consider going into comedy if he was ever struck off as a doctor – and this year the Australian Medical Board suspended his license after he allegedly gave advice to a suicidal but otherwise healthy man.
He is currently appealing the decision, but has said that the suspension meant it is “clearly now time” to embark on his new career.
Ideas for his show arose from conversations with stand-up Mel Moon, who last year became the youngest member of Exit International after contracting an incurable disease affecting the endocrine system.
The 34-year-old from Sussex said that despite Dr Nitschke’s controversial reputation, he is “actually quite funny”.
She said: “He’s not as natural as a stand-up, more like a witty after-dinner speaker.
“We’re certainly going to prey on his reputation. We want it to be a ridiculous take on what some people think. We’re going to parody some of the objections people have to euthanasia – such as the idea that it’ll be so freely available that everybody will want to do it.
“It’s an awful, awful topic but I think we can have a bit of fun with it.”
Disability rights campaigner Nikki Kenward of the UK-based Distant Voices pressure group, which is against euthanasia, said: “You will be laughing at victims who are vulnerable and needy, who want love and good care.
“If death becomes a joke you will be laughing all the way to your coffin. I hear the heavy jingle of riches in the coffers of the heartless comedians.”
A spokesman for Care Not Killing, an organisation that opposes euthanasia, said: “It is concerning that the organisers of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival have given carte blanche to an individual to push his fanatical views.
“We hope that they have consulted groups like the Samaritans about this hugely controversial subject and will ensure young and impressionable attendees will be protected from this sort of dangerous propaganda.”
Dr Nitschke has helped a total of four people end their lives, and provided advice to others who have subsequently done the same.
Last year, Edinburgh’s famous festival attracted 1.8 million people. Over a third of the shows were comedy acts featuring thousands of stand-up comics.