THE controversial Australian doctor who has opened a euthanasia clinic in the UK advising people on how to end their lives is encouraging people to visit his clinic "before they get too sick".
Dr Philip Nitschke said the arrival of his non-profit organisation Exit International, which held its inaugural event in London on Saturday, was to meet demand from its 1,000 British members who have previously attended his workshops and lectures.
However, it has raised concerns from those on both sides of the assisted dying debate, with warnings that it is a "potentially very dangerous" development and could be "open to abuse".
He became the first doctor to administer a legal, voluntary lethal injection in Australia in 1995 but is currently barred from practising medicine in his home country. He said he would work within British legal boundaries.
In an interview with The Independent, Dr Nitschke, 67, said UK membership of his "suicide club" has increased significantly.
"Most people join Exit when they realise things may not stay perfect and may the find themselves in trouble in the future," he said.
"It is easier to prepare [for death] now. That is the message Exit International has been promoting and why it is so important to have an office in London.
"We encourage people not to wait around until they are seriously ill before coming to see us."
Members are charged to access online information on which drugs are appropriate for suicide, for example, and to attend workshops to discuss ways to end their life.
"Our office does not hand out barbiturates or other drugs," said Dr Nitschke, adding that the information would help people take the most suitable course of action.
"If someone decides to break the law and import drugs we make it quite clear that they know they have the right thing - and to have the substances tested to make sure they are pure. ."
The clinic's arrival comes just two months after Lord Falconer's Assisted Dying Bill passed its second reading in the House of Lords.
If the Bill passes a third reading it will be sent to the House of Commons. A recent poll found that 73 per cent of adults in England and Wales supported its proposals.
Baroness Grey-Thompson, the former Paralympian, said: "The public should be concerned, not least because its previous title included the word 'euthanasia'.
"This is massively open to abuse and I can't see how it can be monitored. The clinic is way beyond anything that has even been suggested in the proposed legislation."
Sarah Wootton, the chief executive of Dignity in Dying, which campaigns for a change in the law on assisted dying for terminally ill adults, said she was concerned at Exit's arrival in the UK.
"Only a change in the law can provide a safeguarded framework, to confirm a dying patient's diagnosis, prognosis, competence, and that they are making a clear, settled and informed decision aware of all their care and treatment options," she said.
"Assuming Exit International's intention is to provide potentially vulnerable people information on how to die then it is both unwelcome and potentially very dangerous."
Dr Nitschke's licence was suspended in July after he was found to pose "a serious risk" to the public's health and safety, by the Medical Board of Australia after he was accused of counselling a 45-year-old from Perth who was not terminally ill but apparently depressed, to take his own life.