Police door-knock elderly women who attended euthanasia meeting
An elderly Wellington woman thinks she may be under police surveillance after a surprise visit from officers conducting an anti-euthanasia operation.
The woman, in her 80s, said she was gagged by police from talking to other members of Exit International after a plain-clothed police officer came to her apartment door asking about the euthanasia group.
She spoke out after Stuff revealed on Monday that police have an ongoing operation, which they have codenamed Painter, cracking down on Exit International members.
One Lower Hutt woman faces a charge of importing a Class C drug, thought to be Nembutal, and it is understood another Wellington woman was also raided by police.
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Now it appears police visits to elderly people associated with Exit are far more widespread, with officers allegedly working their way through New Zealand-based members of the group.
ACT leader David Seymour, who has a member's bill in the parliamentary ballot that would legalise euthanasia, questioned whether police were acting on the tipoff of someone who was ideologically opposed.
He said the raids raised "serious questions" about police treatment of a politically sensitive issue.
"With rates of burglary and assault going up, this is a baffling use of police resources.
"And putting an elderly woman in the cells for a non-violent offence is a gratuitous use of intimidation tactics."
The woman in her 80s said she knew of others, of a similar age, approached at home by police. She believed their details had come from officers infiltrating an Exit International meeting they attended.
"He said, 'You were at Exit, at a meeting'. I said, 'You must have a spy'."
After telling her not to tell others of the visit, the officer gave her a letter, with instructions not to open it until he had left.
"After we have gone, you may feel overwhelmed and you may want to talk to someone, or want to seek further information or support," the letter said.
"FORM OF INVASION"
It suggested talking to her doctor or family, and went on to list various help groups, including a suicide crisis line, Mental Health Foundation, and Age Concern.
The woman said the "condescending" letter seemed to suggest "I was a poor thing, depressed and wanting to die now".
The visit left her stressed, and caused her to have an asthma attack, she said. "It was a form of invasion."
She said she had no immediate plans to kill herself, and had no euthanasia drugs, but wanted a law change to make voluntary euthanasia legal for people with terminal or irreversible conditions that made life unbearable.
"I have known several people who have had unnecessarily long and painful deaths, for which painkilling drugs didn't work, because they didn't have the option to die on their terms."
The letter also told her to call police if she had any questions about Operation Painter but, when she did that, she was told police did not know about it.
"I don't know if I am under surveillance," she said.
ACTING WITH "COMPASSION"
Police would not comment when asked if the operation was politically requested, involved digital surveillance, whether Exit members were gagged, or how widespread the operation was.
Wellington area commander Inspector Chris Bensemann said police were acting with compassion, and the welfare of those involved was the top priority.
"Police are acutely aware of the interest in the sensitive nature of the investigations. However, we have broader responsibilities to the coroner and need to keep this in mind when conducting investigations and considering what comment to make in public."
Police Minister Judith Collins said she had not been briefed by police about the case, and had no concerns about the investigation.
"It's not something I'd ever comment on. Police are absolutely operationally independent, and I'm not going to go launching in to who they should and who they should not arrest."