We know where you've been, police tell 76-year-old who attended euthanasia meeting
Wilhelmina Irving is 76, healthy, and law-abiding. She has no immediate plans to die.
But because she attended a euthanasia meeting in Lower Hutt on October 2, at which police were also believed to be present and noting down car registration plates, the law came knocking on her door.
She is not the only elderly Wellington woman targeted by police after attending the meeting, held by euthanasia group Exit International.
A Lower Hutt woman has been charged with importing class C drugs, thought to be the euthanasia drug Nembutal, and is understood to have spent a night in police cells.
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"A lot of elderly people are quite scared by police and [scared] they might be doing something wrong," Irving said, though to her "the whole thing was stupid ... laughable".
Police have confirmed that they have an operation, codenamed Painter, targeting members of Exit, many who have broken no laws.
They have repeatedly refused to comment on the operation, or their reason for conducting it.
Irving said she had not ordered any illegal drugs, and would rather see a law change allowing voluntary euthanasia, instead of people having to import drugs and run the risk of running foul of the law.
"Police should have better things to do," she said.
After all, suicidal people generally don't put new lino on the kitchen floor or build attic rooms in their homes, both which Irving is currently doing in her unit in Karori, Wellington.
She said she left the October 2 meeting early to go to a play, but understood others there were stopped by police and had their cars searched as they left.
When she recently got a knock at the door from a plain-clothed officer calling himself an inspector, she assumed he was a building inspector. But it soon turned out he wanted to discuss the meeting.
"He told me he knew exactly what had been said, who was there, everything else and [asked] what did I have to say?"
He asked if her children knew whether she had investigated the option of eventually ending her life. Her children did know, she said, just as they knew of her 25-year membership of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society VES).
Before leaving, the inspector gave her a letter, containing details for suicide and depression helplines, which she was instructed to open after he left.
VES president Maryan Street said she knew of at least two elderly people in Wellington who had been visited by police with search warrants, who impounded their computers and cellphones.
With a parliamentary inquiry into euthanasia under way, Street said police had "overstepped the line" and needed to abandon the investigation immediately.
"The police need to back away from this activity unless they wish to be viewed as having their strings pulled by people with a political agenda of their own – namely to oppose a law change."
Human rights lawyer Michael Bott said that, if people were being watched, interviewed or having their houses searched just for going to a meeting, it could have a "chilling effect on what it means to be part of a free and open society".
Merely attending a meeting did not identify people as subscribing to the goals or ideals of a group.
"It's nonsense. If I attend a Forest & Bird or Greenpeace meeting, are police going to think I'm part of some type of radical animal liberation organisation? Where will it end?"