The shutdown of Silk Road, the secret online marketplace for illegal drugs and other goods, may be having a grim side effect. The site was used by junkies and Timothy Leary types, but a doctor in Australia claims it was also an important resource for chronically ill patients pursuing euthanasia, or assisted suicide.

Euthanasia is illegal in many countries, but there are still doctors and advocates who will help distressed patients seeking voluntary death. Usually these patients are in so much pain, or their quality of life is so diminished, that they no longer want to live and prefer to exit on their own terms. Such patients were using Silk Road to purchase the lethal drug Nembutal and download copies of an ebook called The Peaceful Pill Handbook, says Australian right-to-die advocate Philip Nitschke. A search of the Silk Road forums confirmed that vendors were advertising Nembutal, which also has recreational uses.

The ebook, a euthanasia how-to guide that has been banned in New Zealand and Australia, is available on Amazon. The drug, however, is harder to get. Dr. Nitschke told The Age that he knew of at least 20 people who used Silk Road to clandestinely purchase Nembutal, the brand name for the lethal injection drug pentobarbital that induces respiratory failure. Patients seeking Nembutal will now have to buy it from Chinese chemical makers or wait for the drug to pop up on one of the newer virtual black markets. "The removal of the site will now mean that other less secure avenues will be pursued," Dr. Nitschke says.