The suicide of an elderly Nelson member of a pro-euthanasia group has again highlighted the fierce debate over a person's right to die.
Gretha Appleby, 80, was found dead in 2010. Coroner Carla na Nagara released her findings into the death yesterday, stating Mrs Appleby died at her home from self-inflicted injuries.
Mrs Appleby was a noted member of the pro-euthanasia group Voluntary Euthanasia Society of New Zealand.
She had expressed her pro-euthanasia views publicly, writing to the Nelson Mail in 2008 to declare her frustration at the "irrational" view that considered someone a murderer for helping a suffering loved one to die.
"My compassion goes towards the ‘murderer', feeling he or she needs our understanding," she wrote. "No son, daughter nor anyone should be put to such a test.
"If only we would have a law in which the dying have a choice how to die with dignity, this would save a lot of misunderstanding."
In New Zealand it is a criminal offence to help someone die, or even provide a means for them to do so.
The issue of euthanasia was raised again last week after Auckland man Evans Mott was discharged without conviction after the death of his wife.
Society spokesman John Murray said Mrs Appleby, who was a lifetime member, was one of more than 1200 people in New Zealand who officially supported the group.
Their foremost aim was to bring about a law change that would allow people with incurable disease or in unbearable pain to end their own lives.
"If a person for whatever reason wants to commit suicide they're not a criminal . . . we're into the issue of dying, not killing."
Labour MP Maryan Street, who is the author of a member's bill that would legalise assisted suicide in certain cases, said she had decided to act after a meeting with society members a year ago.
Although similar proposals had been voted down in 1995 and 2003, she believed the mood of the nation had swung.
The bill had a good chance of passing if pulled from the ballot, and several MPs who had voted against the previous proposals had told her they had changed their minds, she said.
But the proposal has also attracted opposition from several organisations, including pro-life groups and the palliative care industry.
Australian and New Zealand Society of Palliative Medicine chairwoman Sinead Donnelly said allowing doctors to kill their patients would have a dreadful impact on the medical profession.
A national meeting of palliative care experts last week had returned a unanimous vote against the idea, which would impact public safety and expose the vulnerable.
"If society wants to kill its own people it should be outside the health system."
Ms Street's bill proposed far more lenience than other countries that allowed some form of euthanasia and also suggested doctors could face imprisonment if they did not abide by it - an outrageous outcome, she said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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