A report last August that a man from Virginia had topped himself by … erm … untopping himself caused me to exclaim: “Bloody hell! That’s got be a first.”
But no. Thanks to the invention of the chainsaw, several people over the past few years have succeeded in shortening themselves by 12 inches or so.
However, in this latest case, the man did not use a chainsaw. Instead he secured one end of a cable to his neck and the other to a tree after a row with his ex-wife. His head was ripped from his shoulders when he took off at high speed in his SUV.
In 2008, Englishman David Phyall, 50, used string to tie his Black & Decker chainsaw to a leg of a snooker table in his sitting room. He attached a timer to the thing, then lay face up under the snooker table and laid the chainsaw against his neck.
Earlier, in November 2007, a 19-year old living in the Upper Austrian town of Laakirchen, close to Austria’s famous tourist destination Gmunden, decapitated himself with a chainsaw because he was thought to have had problems at his workplace; and in May 2007 a man in the German city of Cologne cut off his head with a chainsaw after stabbing his 70-year-old father to death.
Oddly, when I attended a suicide workshop in Brighton in 2009, no mention was made power tools. Drugs, yes – Nembutol in particular – and helium and plastic bags, but Poulans, Stihls or Husquavarnas never made it to the menu.
At this point you must be wondering why on earth I would want to attend a workshop of this nature. Two reasons: first I am an ardent supporter of free speech, and I was appalled that three venues in Sussex got cold feet and cancelled Australian Dr Philip Nitschke’s workshop at the last moment.
Shame on them.
I was so outraged by the ban that, in a letter published in the Brighton Argus, I wrote:
“Just as people have every right to make informed choices about how to live their lives, they should also be allowed to arm themselves with the knowledge of how to end them efficiently. Far too many suicides fail, or are messy, or impinge negatively on others when people throw themselves under trains, or off motorway bridges, or high buildings.
“If workshops such as ones led by Dr Nitschke help to make suicide a less haphazard venture, then they are to be applauded and allowed to proceed without interference. And if there are doubts as to their legality, these could quickly be removed by changing any laws that prohibit the dissemination of effective suicide or euthanasia information.”
Ironically, a religious centre in Brighton came to the rescue, and it was in a United Reform Church hall that I got to meet the man the gutter press had dubbed “Dr Death”. He was delightful.
My pragmatic nature was the second reason for my being there. There may well come a time when I decide to end my life with dignity. Dr Nitschke’s methods are clean and effective, and his workshop was one of the most empowering and amusing experiences of my life.
Empowering, because it helped people realize that no individuals, governments or religious organisations should have the right to stand in the way of life or death choices. If we choose suicide, for whatever reason, we should have the information that will prevent a botched job. Dr Nitschke’s workshops do just that.
The workshop was amusing because Dr Nitschke, who has legally assisted a number of people to end their lives, applies a brilliantly light touch to his presentations, and many in the audience – people mainly in their 50s and over, found themselves chortling throughout the workshop – and even laughed out loud when a short video was shown called DIY with Betty. The 50s-styled video, which you can watch on YouTube, shows retired nurse Betty demonstrating how to make a suicide bag, used to induce hypoxia with the aid of a gas such as helium.
Betty suggests that “you might like to get your hair done” before putting the bag over your head and bidding farewell to the world.
Despite being completely bald, this method appeals to me, not least because I am absolutely rubbish with power tools. So a Makita or a Black & Decker is simply not an option.
Also I am cognizant of the fact that many people are squeamish, and I’d hate to be found so messily dead as to cause someone to lose their lunch.
That would just be rude.