Steven Morris

He is nicknamed Dr. Death, his book on voluntary euthanasia is banned in his homeland and his trip to the U.K. has caused an outcry. But at a hall in west London on Monday, a group of over-50s turned up to listen calmly as Dr. Philip Nitschke explained in minute detail how, if they chose, they could take their own lives.

Nitschke told the audience how to obtain drugs he claimed would guarantee a painless and controlled end. For those who did not like the idea of taking drugs, he demonstrated an “Exit bag” — a kit that he said would also lead to a rapid, comfortable death. There were probing questions from the audience, who wanted to know the technical details. There was criticism of the hurdles people have to go through if they want to end it all. Some munched on cakes and sipped coffee as they listened and, despite the very serious subject matter, there was quite a lot of laughter.

Nitschke’s book The Peaceful Pill, in effect a DIY handbook on euthanasia, is banned in Australia. So he travelled to Britain to launch the online version, believing he would be given a fairer hearing.

His trip has been dogged with controversy. Bournemouth council hit the headlines last week when it refused to allow him to speak to its ageing population in one of its venues. There has been talk that Nitschke could even face arrest for assisting people to commit suicide, which is unlawful.

But during a workshop at the Conway Hall, the headquarters of the liberal-leaning South Place Ethical Society in central London, Nitschke gave details of the places a person could obtain a certain drug. It tasted bitter, he said.