PM for mercy killings


08 March 2003


Prime Minister Helen Clark has come out in support of voluntary euthanasia as mercy killing comes back on to the political agenda.

Terminally-ill people had "the right to choose but legislation needs to be very carefully framed to make sure it cannot be abused by others," Ms Clark said.

The Prime Minister will vote for the introduction of New Zealand First MP Peter Brown's Death with Dignity bill, which will force a conscience vote on euthanasia eight years after it was last debated by Parliament.

"It is a complex issue which needs to be carefully handled and it may well need modification in the select committee."

Ms Clark's comments come as controversy grows over the arrest of euthanasia campaigner Lesley Martin for the attempted murder of her dying mother, Joy, in 1999.

Martin, a trained intensive care nurse, was remanded on bail by a Wanganui District Court judge on Thursday and ordered not to talk to the media.

Martin claimed in a book, To Die Like a Dog, that she tried to assist her cancer-stricken mother to die in 1998.

Police reactivated a homicide inquiry into her mother's death last year after the publication of Martin's book.

Among those outraged by Martin's arrest is Nelson euthanasia campaigner Ralph Vincent, 84, who is awaiting the outcome of a seven-month police investigation into the death of his wife, Vicky, in September last year.

Mr Vincent told The Press he would rather go to prison than be silenced like Martin.

"I have devoted my life to making sure people have the right to die when they want to. I would not accept such (gagging) bail conditions. I would rather stay in jail than be silenced," Mr Vincent said.

"It's appalling that anyone can dictate to you when you have the right to die."

Mr Vincent is afraid the "bloody disgusting" prosecution of Martin is a politically-motivated act, given the new bill on euthanasia coming before Parliament.

"It seems to me to be awful to pick this moment in time, when the book has been out for nine months. I think it is disgusting that we pick on an individual like Lesley who had the guts to say she had to help her mother in that way," he said.

"There will be a select committee stage on the matter, and I would expect Lesley to be called before it, and I hope I will be too."

Mr Vincent said he had no fear about facing the same fate as Martin.

"I would have liked to have gone with my wife. I don't care what happens to me now," Mr Vincent said.

Meanwhile, doctors are saying that they are faced with a big grey area when it comes to intervening in a patient's death.

"There is nothing completely rigid about the area. Every situation is different. There are legal and ethical considerations around any action to end the life of a patient," said New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA) chairman John Adams.

However, when it comes to the question of legalising euthanasia, the NZMA was quite clear.

"Apart from the inherent ethical wrongness, there is the question about what it would mean in society. I think it is enormously dangerous," Dr Adams said.

"I feel that there can be no support of euthanasia. You will find different people in the medical profession have different opinions, but the vast majority feel they could not support legalisation."

Although dying patients have the right to tell doctors not to attempt to resuscitate them, there are circumstances where doctors who feel compelled can over-ride the request.