Monday, June 11, 2007


The Office of Film and Literature Classification has banned Philip Nitschke & Fiona Stewart's Peaceful Pill Handbook on the grounds that it promotes criminal behaviour. This means that it is now an offence even to own it, carrying a penalty of a $2,000 fine - or five years imprisonment if you know it is objectionable. And its an offence to import it, carrying a $10,000 fine, or ten years imprisonment if done with knowledge. So it might be a mistake to try circumventing the ban by ordering it over Amazon. While I don't know whether our border security arrangements are really up to checking whether anyone is Reading The Wrong Books, it might not be worth taking the risk.

The censor's specific objections are in the full decision:

Parts of the book go beyond advocacy and advice and give instruction in how to get away with committing crime, thereby promoting or encouraging criminal acts in terms of s3(3)(d). Specifically, these parts of the book instruct in how to smuggle Nembutal into the country without detection, how to manufacture pentobarbital in contravention of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975, how to manufacture and use cyanide in violation of the Agricultural Compounds and Veterinary Medicines Act 1997 and the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996, and how to conceal one’s involvement with the commission of a suicide, exposing one to prosecution under ss113, 116 and 179 of the Crimes Act 1961. The delivery of most of this information by means of first-person testimonials, and the tone of advocacy throughout the publication, contribute to the promotion and encouragement of the criminal activities the book describes in such detail.

By all accounts, Nitschke & Stewart's advice on how to manufacture pentobarbital is a bit of a fizzer, and if anything would discourage people from pursuing that path. As for the rest, I'm struck by the absurdity of the censor trying to ban knowledge which is either widely available, or not exactly rocket science. It's no secret how you get pharmaceuticals into the country without detection: you hide them in plain sight, as other pharmaceuticals, and rely on the inability or unwillingness of customs staff to inspect every single pill. It's also no secret how you manufacture cyanide: the principles are in any chemistry textbook, but I'm not sure why anyone would bother given that you can order it in 5 kilo jars over the net from chemical suppliers in New Zealand (just remember to download the safety sheet). As for concealing criminal involvement, I don't think people really need to be told that if you don't want the police to think someone helped a dead person to get the poison which killed them, you make it look like they got it themselves. None of this is a secret, and I doubt anyone reading it will be convinced to go on a drug-smuggling, barbituate-manufacturing, evidence-concealing bender resulting ultimately in their taking their own life using a home-built guillotine which uses heavy jars of cyanide as counterweights, unless they had already determined that course of action and were going to do it anyway - but that is what the OFLC is essentially arguing in banning Nitschke & Stewart's book. It's a very medieval idea, which treats knowledge as a pathogen which can infect people with undesirable behaviour, and people as automotons who mindlessly perform whatever actions are suggested to them. I prefer to think we have a little more agency than that.

Nitschke is apparently planning to rewrite his book to comply with New Zealand law. He shouldn't have to - but if he does, I hope he will stick a honking great URL in it, pointing to a website hosted in a suitable overseas jurisdiction, on which his original material is available. The internet is a great tool for circumventing the dictates of repressive government, but it is equally useful for circumventing stupid laws and giving the finger to authority. And in this case, that's exactly what I think people should do.


Much of the book is freely downloadable at Google Books. ;-)

Posted by Richard : 6/11/2007 06:42:00 PM

Of course, doing so exposes you to the same penalty as for importing. So, use an anonymising service or secure browser to do it.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 6/11/2007 06:57:00 PM

This is another version of the sedition law. We simply shouldn't have a law on the books that allows purely textual publications to be banned.

Is "Mein Kampf" illegal in NZ? - after all it advocates the creation of a fascist state that lead to the deaths of millions. And you can't argue that the author wasn't being serious.

Posted by Rich : 6/11/2007 09:27:00 PM

Rich: pretty much. And it has the same response: "every idea is an incitement"...

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 6/11/2007 11:08:00 PM

Just remember that though OHS requires you to have either amyl nitrate or sodium thiosulphate available if you have cyanide, no one bothers with it and it would be suspicious :P

They're the antidotes, thiosulphates bugger all use as it needs to be injected intravenously, not practical when you're gasping, and amyl nitrate is inhaled, whether theres been CN exposure or not.

Posted by Bloodrage : 6/11/2007 11:19:00 PM