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— Part of the reason The Peaceful Pill Handbook was banned in Australia and New Zealand was because of the helpful hints on traveling to Mexico to obtain pentobarbital with the intent to bring it back to Australia. “You can’t legally import the drug into Australia,” Nitschke says. “It’s a class A drug, as they say here, the same as heroin.”

But it’s not only Australian law that Nitschke’s suicide-tourist countrymen are breaking, it’s U.S. law as well. Exit International and The Peaceful Pill Handbook suggest that people stay in U.S. cities such as San Diego, cross into Mexico, and cross back into the U.S. carrying the pentobarbital, which is illegal. An Australian television news report from April 2008, available on YouTube (youtube.com/watch?v=EheK5vmInOE), shows a seriously ill couple from Australia traveling to San Diego, checking in at the Harborview Inn on Grape Street in Little Italy, enjoying a few sights in San Diego, and conferring with Nitschke in their hotel room as to where in Tijuana to find the suicide drugs they want. Next, they’re in Tijuana buying the pentobarbital at a veterinary pharmacy on Revolución. A sign hangs in the window of the pharmacy. It says: Australian Veterinary Supplements. They make their purchase, cross back into the U.S., and fly back to Australia. Asked if he’s aware of the illegality of crossing the U.S. border with pentobarbital, Nitschke chuckles. “Look,” he says, “we understand that you’re crossing several boundaries there. And we’ve had a couple of instances where people have been picked up at the U.S. border. We’ve had, interestingly, no example of people that have been picked up at the Australia or New Zealand port. But elderly people think, ‘What have I got to lose?’ And quite possibly they have a lot to lose, but they do it anyway. You’ve got an increasing number of elderly folk who are prepared to take this chance. That speaks for itself.”

Faye Girsh, vice president of the Hemlock Society of San Diego, knows that Exit International has been publicizing the Mexico option for its members. “But we do not send people to Tijuana, because it’s not a legal thing to do,” she explains. “We want people to be able to die peacefully, and quickly, and gently, and with certainty, and those drugs are a way to do it. But we don’t want to jeopardize people’s legal status. We support legal physician-aided dying. We’re also very supportive of the Final Exit Network, an organization that was founded by me and some other people in 2005. [Final Exit] provides support to people who have terminal or hopeless diseases who are considering hastening their death. If they qualify for the program, then our volunteers, who are called exit guides — I am one — go to their home to talk about options. If they do decide to hasten their dying, the exit guides are with them when they do it, although they can’t provide physical assistance and they can’t provide the means.”

Girsh describes the experience as “peaceful, quick, and certain. Generally, loved ones are there. Generally, these people are extremely sick, not always terminal but sometimes terminal. When a death is planned that way, there’s often less grieving, less trauma than when a death occurs after a long period of suffering or when it occurs suddenly, of course. Most of the people that I’ve worked with have had hospice care, but it’s not enough, so they choose to hasten their death.”

Asked what death-hastening methods she recommends, Girsh responds, “Well, the best drugs are really not available to people, and that’s why they go to Mexico. The best drugs are short-acting barbiturates. Pentobarbital — Nembutal, we call it.”

But because of the illegality of importing and possessing pentobarbital, Girsh favors another option, “Inhalation of inert gas.”

Nitschke describes the gas-inhalation method, in which a plastic bag full of helium is worn over the head, as “very quick, very peaceful. It requires no drugs. It’s completely lawful. You don’t need any help, and suicide is not a crime. But you’ve still got to mess around with cylinders of gas, there needs to be some way to control the flow of the gas, and you’ve got plastic bags over their heads. Many people do it, especially when they realize that it’s as peaceful, quick, and reliable as it is. [The Hemlock Society] is very keen on that [method]. I think if they were honest and asked their own membership, ‘Do you want a plastic bag over your head or do you want to drink this little drink?’, they’ll find 90 percent of people would say, ‘I’d rather drink the drink, thank you very much.’ ”

But the trick is acquiring the drink. And for the mostly Australian, New Zealander, and British membership of Nitschke’s Exit International, the easiest option is to travel to the U.S. and make a brief foray into Mexico to obtain the pentobarbital. “My usual route,” says Nitschke, “is through Los Angeles and then down. But increasingly, nowadays, we’d be more inclined to travel across to other cities in Mexico rather than into the increasing scrutiny that Tijuana is being subjected to. We’re increasingly suggesting the El Paso, Laredo, Mexicali options.”

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Comments

jerome Aug. 23, 2008 @ 5:29 p.m.

forget about buying drugs in TJ....just go there and you have a good chance of accomplishing your desired suicide , of course it will be assisted, OR your money will go to a good cause; the local residents; who have chased off most of the legitamate tourists and believe me that includes rosarito. the locals need $ and everyone is a target these days as the tourista traffiic is gone....

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Ponzi Aug. 26, 2008 @ 12:12 p.m.

My parents recently had some out of town guests that wanted to visit Tijuana. These folks are 80 years old and my parenst advised them not to go. But they insisted and took the trolley down and then a tour bus.

They were the only poeple on the tour bus. Imagine that! I was even surprised that tourism could be that bad in the middle of summer (this was only four weeks ago). So they rode around in some open top tour bus with the driver all to themselves.

Apparently they get dropped off at the fornt of the line at the border and don't have to wait very long to get through. Most of the people at the border these days are not tourists retruning, but workers going back and forth.

I'm glad they made it home safely. I'm still scratching my head why they had to go. I think it's out of their system now. They said they didn't see anything that would be of any interest for any future visits.

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