11 March 2003

From: STUFF.co.NZ



Euthanasia woman's arrest a shock - campaigner


If the Death with Dignity Bill before Parliament makes voluntary euthanasia legal, Wanganui woman Lesley Martin should take most of the credit, Philip Nitschke says.

Dr Nitschke, the director of Exit Australia and a fellow campaigner for voluntary euthanasia, got to know Ms Martin on visits to New Zealand. She also stayed with him in Darwin while in the final stages of writing the book, To Die Like a Dog, which has spearheaded her own campaign in New Zealand.

The book tells the story of Ms Martin's mother Joy's death from cancer in 1999. Ms Martin was arrested on Thursday and charged with attempted murder.

Her fiance, Warren Fulljames, said there was no prior warning of the arrest. Police knocked on her door that morning, asked her a few questions and took her to Wanganui police station.

Mr Fulljames said he knew she could be arrested at any time, but it still came as a shock. Both of them were "fine" now, he said.

It was "an amazing coincidence" that New Zealand First deputy leader Peter Brown's Death with Dignity member's bill was drawn from the ballot box on the same day as the arrest.

Ms Martin rang Dr Nitschke from the police cells. She appeared in court later that day and Judge Gregory Ross asked for six bail conditions.

Mr Fulljames said they included residing in Wanganui, surrendering her passport and not getting another, reporting weekly to Wanganui police, not giving media interviews, not publishing or promoting her views on euthanasia and not promoting or distributing any work she had already done containing those views. This was a violation of her right to free speech, he said.

It also struck at her livelihood. Ms Martin had formed a publishing company called M-Press. She was actively promoting her first book and planning a second containing other people's stories of troubled deaths.

Dr Nitschke said the bail conditions were unreasonably strict. "Not to be able to market her book or talk to the public or to any media that's what she does, so it seems very cruel."

He said a case involving a Western Australian doctor accused of helping a patient die took two years to get through the courts.

During this time Dr Darryl Stephens was told not to mention the word euthanasia. Dr Nitschke said this was the only precedent for Ms Martin's bail conditions that he had heard of.

Mr Fulljames said Ms Martin would attempt to change the restrictive bail conditions in the High Court at Wellington this week so she could accompany Dr Nitschke on his tour of Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin from April 2-13, as planned.

Dr Nitschke said he would be giving workshops on euthanasia. He had also booked Ms Martin as one of two overseas speakers at Exit Australia's Killing Me Softly: Love, Death and Dying in Australia conference in Sydney at the end of May. She would be unable to attend unless she had a passport.

A court official said a hearing in Wanganui on April 9 had been booked "to see if the police have enough evidence to commit her for trial". Dr Nitschke said he planned to attend in support.

The trial itself would take place in the High Court in Wanganui unless a change of venue was applied for, the official said. Mr Fulljames said Ms Martin would plead not guilty.

Dr Nitschke said Australians were "speechless" at recent New Zealand arrests of elderly husbands accused of killing their ill spouses. But he thought Ms Martin's arrest would cause MPs to give the current Death with Dignity Bill their full attention.

"What's happened really makes me think that it's going to get a much more serious look than it would have without this. Just the very fact that you have got your prime minister commenting is hopeful."