Coroner urges MPs to decide on euthanasia

MICHELLE DUFF
Last updated 05:00 15/10/2013

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A coroner is calling for Parliament to make up its mind about euthanasia after an elderly woman chose to suffocate herself with a handmade contraption in her Lower Hutt home.

Widow Edna Gluyas, 85, waited for her family to leave from a visit and lay down in her bed for a final time, alone, before setting in motion the process that would kill her on August 3, 2011.

Less than two hours later, her daughter returned to find her dead by what Wellington Regional Coroner Ian Smith has determined "euthanasia by suffocation".

In his report, Mr Smith calls for Parliament to confront the issue of euthanasia - a topic that has long been dodged.

"Once again this death raises the vexed issue of euthanasia and, as I have recorded in past cases, this process simply will not go away, and it will be necessary for Parliament to address this matter yet again."

Mrs Gluyas lived alone, in a suburban street in Belmont. Her husband had died in 1988. She was a firm believer in euthanasia, had attended seminars, and owned a book on the subject.

During his inquiry, Mr Smith found Mrs Gluyas had been struggling with severe arthritis and back pain for some time.

She was described by her doctor as a "very stoical lady", who did not come to see him often.

In mid-2011, she had been involved in a car accident, which had shaken her confidence. Her golden retriever dog had recently died.

On day of her death, her family visited about 2pm and found her lying on the bedroom floor, unable to get up. They lifted her back to bed, and left when she insisted she just wanted to rest.

Two hours later, her daughter came back to find her dead.

Police initially thought someone else aided in her death, as the setup used by Mrs Gluyas was described as "fairly involved" and awkward to put together, particularly for an elderly woman with arthritis.

But a criminal investigation and further review - ordered by Mr Smith - found Mrs Gluyas had acted alone.

"This tragic death could be described as a suicide or euthanasia, the latter being the more appropriate description in this circumstance," he wrote.

Mrs Gluyas's family could not be contacted yesterday.

A spokeswoman for Justice Minister Judith Collins said euthanasia was always a conscience issue and was only ever brought to Parliament by way of a member's bill.

Three weeks ago, Labour MP Maryan Street withdrew her End of Life Choice Bill to legalise voluntary euthanasia, amid fears that it would become a political football during election year.

Yesterday, Ms Street said Mrs Gluyas's case again highlighted the need for a law change.

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"I think people want this legalisation, and they want to be able to choose their moment and method of death.

"There's a lot of people talking about this ... but I'm not confident there are enough MPs across the house that would treat it with enough seriousness in election year."

End of Life Choice New Zealand president Don Grant applauded Mr Smith's recommendations.

"It's crucial that politicians listen to what the majority of New Zealanders want," he said.

"It comes down to choice - we're allowed to choose where we give birth, but when it comes to dying everybody buries their head in the sand."

A poll conducted by Horizon Research last year indicated that 62.9 per cent of Kiwis supported or strongly supported voluntary euthanasia.

STREET'S BILL THIRD ATTEMPT

Labour MP Maryan Street's End of Life Choice Bill is the latest rendition of three bills which have tried to legalise euthanasia in the past two decades.

In 2004, euthanasia campaigner Lesley Martin was found guilty of attempting to murder her terminally ill mother, and jailed for 15 months.

In the wake of this, NZ First MP Peter Brown - whose wife died of cancer - introduced a Death with Dignity Bill. It was voted down by 60 votes to 57.

A previous bill, championed by Michael Laws in 1995, failed by 61 votes to 29.

Last year, Ms Martin told The Dominion Post she had put her Dignity NZ trust "into a quiet period".

But she now believes the introduction of binding citizen-initiated referendums will be the only catalyst for change.

"I was in Parliament for the two days prior to the reading of the 2003 bill, lobbying MPs. I watched the whole debate unfold. It was so superficial, and ill-informed, it was heartbreaking."

- The Dominion Post

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