From Sunday Star-Times
07 March 2003
GEOFF DALE/Sunday Star-Times
By TRACY WATKINS
Battlelines are being drawn over the right to die after a Wanganui woman was charged with attempted murder on the day legislation forcing a conscience vote on euthanasia was introduced to Parliament.
Lesley Martin was arrested yesterday and remanded on bail for the alleged attempted murder in 1999 of her dying mother, Joy.
Her arrest has shaken euthanasia campaigners and comes as MPs face a fresh debate over whether people with an incurable or terminal illness should be allowed to kill themselves.
The issue has been forced back on to Parliament's agenda by NZ First MP Peter Brown, who drafted the Death with Dignity Bill following the deaths of his father and a close friend.
Euthanasia was last debated by Parliament in 1995, when a proposal to legalise voluntary euthanasia was heavily defeated.
The Catholic Church and Medical Association said yesterday that they would oppose Mr Brown's bill, which calls for a public referendum before it can be passed into law.
But Christchurch woman Sally Gilmour, who said she watched her 47-year-old brother Ian "literally rot to death", said those who lived through such suffering saw no alternative.
"He'd cry and say, 'Oh Sal, please bring me something'. I said, 'Darling, you know if I could I would'," Mrs Gilmour said.
"It was just the way he died. It was absolutely disgusting. I wouldn't let my dog get that bad and I'd probably get charged if I did."
Martin, an intensive care nurse, was ordered by a Wanganui District Court judge not to talk to the media. She entered no plea to the charges.
Her arrest follows that of an 89-year-old man who was charged with murder after his 78-year-old wife was found dead at a Paraparaumu rest home last December.
In August, Thames man Rex Law, 77, was sentenced to 18 months in prison after pleading guilty to murdering his wife of 54 years, who had Alzheimer's disease, by giving her sleeping pills and hitting her on the head with a mallet.
Former NZ First MP Michael Laws, who with terminally ill MP Cam Campion championed the 1995 bill for voluntary euthanasia, said he got death threats and warnings that he would go to hell, "but I knew I was right". Surveys had shown that most New Zealanders favoured voluntary euthanasia, but he was not optimistic of a conscience vote of MPs passing the measure, he said.
"Opposition to the bill is very well organised ... and every MP will be getting lobbied by organised letter-writing campaigns."
Mr Brown, who waited two years for his bill to be drawn from a ballot, said voluntary euthanasia would relieve the stress faced by many terminally ill.
"If they knew they had the right to exit this world with dignity, many would be able to cope more readily with their situation."
But the Rev Dr Michael McCabe of the Catholic Church said it would put elderly people at risk, particularly women, who lived longer.
"It could become the duty to die, to get out of the way because they're a burden."
In the Netherlands, where euthanasia was legal, that had been the "clear experience", he said.
Legalising voluntary euthanasia also sent a damaging signal about the value placed on an older person's life, given the debate about teenage suicide.
"We are saying you can get help when you're young, but when you're old, we will abandon you."
For those properly cared for, the final stages of a terminal illness could be a special time, providing an opportunity for loved ones to bring a "sense of closure", he said.
Medical Association chairman John Adams said doctors did not support deliberately doing harm to a patient.
"We may feel very sympathetic to the individual who has a terminal illness, but when we look at what such a change would mean for our society as a whole, there are huge problems.
"What does it mean when we start down the slope of allowing people to be killed ... if we start down that slippery slope, where will we end up?"