May 18, 2024

NZ nurse on trial for euthanasia

Lesley Martin being escorted to the court by a guard

A New Zealand nurse has gone on trial in Auckland for the attempted murder of her terminally ill mother in 1999. Police initially dropped their investigation for lack of evidence, but took the case up again when Lesley Martin, an intensive care nurse, published a book about her experience, Die Like A Dog. Ms Martin is now New Zealand’s most prominent euthanasia campaigner and her trial has attracted international attention. Australian euthanasia advocate Dr Philip Nitschke is attending, along with an American, Brian Johnston, who has written a book against assisted suicide.

On the opening day, Ms Martin’s defence counsel, Dr Donald Stevens QC, highlighted the failure of the medical system to provide adequate care for her elderly mother for bowel cancer. Dr Stevens grilled the surgeon who had operated on her mother. The surgeon agreed that there had been an “inexcusable” delay in notifying the family doctor about her mother’s appalling list of ailments for follow-up care. The family doctor then failed to give enough morphine to ease the woman’s pain. Dr Stevens also noted that it was a principle of palliative care that patients should not be nursed by loved ones who could easily lose their objectivity.

Although Ms Martin has pleaded not guilty to murdering her mother with an overdose of morphine, she is also using her day in court to promote legalised euthanasia. “This is not just my trial,” she wrote in a recent statement, “this is the trial of everyone who’s ever made a promise that they would help someone die gently if necessary, and the trial of every doctor who has helped and remained silent.”