'The Peacefull Pill Handbook', by Dr Philip Nitscheke and Dr Fiona Stewart
[NLS shelfmark PB8.212.4/1]
The preface to this book states 'The Peaceful Pill Handbook' has been written at a time when there are very few places where Seniors and those who are seriously ill can get information about their end-of-life choices.'
It goes on to say that 'the book and its counterpart, the 'Peaceful Pill e-Handbook', have been written to provide the most accurate, up-to-date information about end-of-life choices possible.
Because it describes these methods in detail, it is restricted or banned in several countries, though an on-line edition is available. However, governments — in particular the Australian Government — has sought to restrict or ban some online material through proposed legislation.
'The Peaceful Pill Handbook' was written by two Australian doctors and published in 2006. All material published in Australia must first be submitted to the Australian Classification Board.
The board gave this book an 'R' for restricted classification, which made its sale restricted. This meant the book could be sold legally in the country as long as it was sold in plain wrap, not on open display, sold only to adults over 18 and displayed the 'R' classification symbol on its front cover.
If a classification is objected to, the offending material is then reviewed by a Classification Review Board. Membership of this board is signed off by the Attorney General.
In January 2007, the Australian Attorney General, Philip Ruddock, and Right to Life NSW (New South Wales), appealed the 'R' rating given by the OFLC to 'The Peaceful Pill Handbook'. The Australian Classification Review Board then overturned the 'R' classification with an 'RC' classification which meant the book was now 'Refused Classification'. This decision led to the book being banned outright.
Different countries have varying laws on assisted suicide. Books on euthanasia are banned in Australia. Legislation was amended in 2001 to 'prohibit absolutely the importation of devices (and documents) that are designed or customised to be used by a person to commit suicide or to be used by a person to assist another to commit suicide'. In addition, the Suicide Related Materials Offences Act (2006) prohibited assistance through mail, internet, etc. These rules carry severe penalties for infringement.
It is now illegal in Australia to loan, display, sell and even possess a copy of 'The Peaceful Pill Handbook'. A recent exhibition of the history of banned books in Australia is only able to display an image of the cover of the book rather than the real cover.
Suggested discussion questions
To what extent do you think governments should intervene in deciding what information is appropriate for an individual to access?
Assisted suicide is a hot topic at the moment — what role do you think doctors should play in deciding what information is appropriate for terminally ill patients to access?
Do you think publications of this nature are likely to remain controversial or become more acceptable in the future? Why or why not?