Exit International 's Dr Philip Nitschke says Silk Road's shutdown is devastating

Prominent Australian right-to-die campaigner Philip Nitschke says the shutdown of black market website Silk Road will have a devastating impact on people who use it to obtain euthanasia drugs.

Last week US authorities busted the online bazaar for drugs, arresting the suspected mastermind Ross William Ulbricht, also known as “Dread Pirate Roberts”, in San Francisco. His attorney has denied the charges.

Nitschke, the head of Exit International who has campaigned on euthanasia issues for more than a decade, said a lot of people used the marketplace to source reliable quantities of the premier end-of-life drug Nembutal.

Information about how to purchase the drug on Silk Road was contained within The Peaceful Pill Handbook, which is published by Exit International and banned in Australia, but which is available online as an e-book. The information on obtaining the drug through Silk Road would now be removed and replaced with a screen grab of the FBI take down notice which now appears on the website, Dr Nitschke said.

“The Silk Road information has been in there most of this year . . . It’s become quite important to people,” Dr Nitschke said, adding that he was aware of at least 20 people who bought Nembutal through the site.

“Our elderly members appreciated the comfort that came from knowing that their transactions were private,” he said.

“Although they knew that importing a small amount of Nembutal for possible use at some future date was illegal, many still felt it was a risk worth taking,” Dr Nitschke said.”The removal of the site will now mean that other less secure avenues will be pursued.”Dr Nitschke said the site was “clearly not the evil place that it’s in many cases being depicted as” by prosecutors, adding that its “positives have been largely overlooked”.

Silk RoadRoss William Ulbricht.

But the father of a young Perth man who died after using the black market website described its closure a “huge win”.

Rod Bridge’s son Preston, 16, died after he fell from a Scarborough hotel balcony early this year after taking the synthetic chemical 251-NBOMe, or LSD, believed to have been purchased from the Silk Road website.

Positives of Silk Road, according to Dr Nitschke, included the fact drugs were peer-reviewed on the site.

“There’s considerable peer-review. Samples . . . get reviewed very quickly. So there is a harm minimisation aspect to this form of sale,” he said.

“It’s not as though it was complete anarchy out there. It was one of the safer ways to buy illicit drugs and as such I would see that as better than the unqualified street trade where people have no idea of the quality of what they’re getting.”

Exit International, an information and advocacy organisation for assisted suicide, publishes the addresses of several other alternative sources for Nembutal – mostly chemical manufacturing companies in China.


“The problem with buying like this is that it is not anonymous and people run the risk of the drug being intercepted and getting a visit from the police,” Dr Nitschke said, pointing to an 80-year-old Tasmanian woman who suffered this fate as recently as Thursday.

“She just lost her money and her drugs,” Dr Nitschke said.

Assisted suicide, or euthanasia, is illegal in most countries around the world and is banned in Australia, although it was legal for a time in the Northern Territory before the law was overturned in the 1990s.

When it was legal in the Northern Territory, Dr Nitschke became the first doctor in the world to administer a legal, voluntary, lethal injection to end a life, and he went on to do the same for three other people.

Henry Sapiecha

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