May 28, 2024

Euthanasia underground surfaces in New Zealand

Advocates at odds

A police investigation in New Zealand has
uncovered what appears to be an international euthanasia underground. In August
2007 a depressed woman in Auckland, Audrey Wallis, died, apparently from an
overdose of the suicide drug Nembutal. It is believed that she was suffering
from depression and a prescription drug addiction. Police have finally issued a
warrant for the arrest of an American woman, Susan Wilson, who helped her to
die, possibly for a fee of NZ$12,000 including her air fare. However, since New
Zealand’s extradition treaty with the US does not cover assisted suicide, it is
unlikely that the full truth will ever emerge.

Police began investigating the case after a
2008 BBC documentary in which Wilson declared that she would go to NZ to help a
woman die. She said she was prepared to travel anywhere in the world. A police
spokesman said that Wilson was “bold and blatant” in the film.
“It was almost to the extent she was bragging. She was clear in that
documentary that she was doing it for profit and that it was a business.”

The case has also exposed a rift between
two euthanasia lobby groups: a moderate group which lobbies for legalization
and a radical group which helps people die on the margin of the law, or outside
it altogether. The spokeswoman for the NZ moderates is Leslie Martin, the head
of Dignity NZ. It was she, together with a friend of Audrey Wallis, who pressed
for charges to be laid. The leading figure of the radicals is actually an
Australian, Dr Philip Nitschke, who was incensed by this betrayal. “This is the
first example of the police being employed by one faction of the right-to-die
movement to pursue those with an alternative view,” he stormed. Ms Martin
retorted that “In Dr Nitschke’s camp of thinking, there are no questions
asked. If someone expresses the desire to end their life, he provides a method.
And he also derives an income from that.”

This was not the only end-of-life
controversy in New Zealand this week. A disabled woman, Margaret Page, aged 60,
died after starving herself to death in a nursing home. It was the only way
that she could commit suicide. Leslie Martin and Philip Nitschke both commented
that she should have had other options. “It is disgusting that the only option
Margaret had left was to deny herself fluids and food and engage in a macabre
process of slow torture and death… When their quality of life gets so bad that
death is their chosen course, they need simply to go to the cupboard and
legally take the drugs that will give them a peaceful and reliable death,” Dr
Nitschke said. ~ NZ Herald, Mar 28

Michael Cook
New Zealand
Philip Nitschke