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Why the Silk Road shutdown has euthanasia advocates worried

The Silk Road was one of the easiest ways suffering people could access the euthanasia drug Nembutal.


Aaron Sankin


Posted on Oct 8, 2013   Updated on Jun 1, 2021, 4:43 am CDT

An Australian right-to-die activist has charged that last week’s closure of the online drug marketplace Silk Road may seriously hamper access to euthanasia drugs.

In an interview with Melbourne-based newspaper The Age, prominent euthanasia advocate Dr. Philip Nitschke of the group Exit International charged that the shuttering of Silk Road, and the arrest of its alleged mastermind Ross Ulbricht, has blocked one of the primary avenues used by many suffering people to obtain the suicide drug Nembutal.

“Although they knew that importing a small amount of Nembutal for possible use at some future date was illegal, many still felt it was a risk worth taking,” Nitschke told The Age. “The removal of the site will now mean that other less secure avenues will be pursued.”

The Peaceful Pill, an e-book Nitschke wrote about euthanasia, contains step-by-step instructions for using the supposedly anonymous and secure Silk Road to obtain the drug. Causing death within an hour of ingestion with minimal pain or discomfort, Nembutal is considered one of the least painful ways for someone to end his or her life.

Assisted suicide is illegal in many countries around the world—such as Australia, Germany and portions of the United States. The drugs necessary to let people end their lives on their own are widely prohibited and therefore often difficult to source.

While Nembutal is owned by the Danish pharmaceutical company Lundbeck, China has in recent years become a leading supplier, with people looking to obtain the drug doing so directly from Chinese factories. As Nitschke explained to AFP, buying the drug directly, instead of over sites like the Silk Road, presents a number of drawbacks

“The problem with buying like this is that it is not anonymous and people run the risk of the drug being intercepted and getting a visit from the police,” Nitschke said, noting that just such an incident occurred with an 80-year old Australian woman earlier this month.

The penalty for the possession of Nembutal in Australia can top $800,000. Australian police claim to have seized over 15 kilograms of the drug, although no one has yet been convicted of the crime in the years since 2007.

It isn’t only Australia where people seeking Nembutal have been advised to go through the Silk Road. On the discussion board of, after one Canadian poster asked about the difficulty of traveling down to Mexico to obtain the drug, other users directed him to the Silk Road as a simpler alternative.

Photo by emagic/Flickr

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*First Published: Oct 8, 2013, 3:20 pm CDT