Suicide pact accused dead

BY KAY BLUNDELL AND KERRY WILLIAMSON
Last updated 05:00 26/09/2009

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A terminally ill man charged in relation to a suicide pact has been found dead in his home.

Barry Sutch, 68, died eight days after he appeared in Levin District Court charged with being party to a suicide.

The frail Otaki man, who had prostate and bowel cancer and had about 18 months to live, faced a charge relating to two people agreeing to enter a suicide pact in which only one person survived.

His 63-year-old wife, Jean, who was suffering from a debilitating illness, died last October. Police investigated her death, describing it as "unexplained", and charged Mr Sutch several months later.

The details can now be reported after The Dominion Post challenged suppression orders on the case.

Mr Sutch was due to appear in court on October 1 but the charges were withdrawn last week, after his death on September 18.

It is understood the couple had sought advice from a relative with links to Australian euthanasia activist Philip Nitschke.

Lesley Martin, who served eight months in prison in 2002 for attempting to kill her mother, met Mr Sutch on September 14 at his Otaki home.

She arranged a meeting after high-profile lawyer Greg King contacted her, offering to defend Mr Sutch for free.

Ms Martin said Mr Sutch told her he would consider fighting his case in court. "He just wasn't sure there was a way forward because of the legal consequences. I said, `I can't comment on any decision you might make.' I told him, `We can offer you significant help.'

"The agreement was I gave him three days to think about it and would call him on Friday. I never heard from him."

Ms Martin said Mr Sutch was frail and emaciated when she met him but "still had a spark to him".

His death and that of his wife highlighted the need for more support for dying people in desperate situations. "We need a legitimate, accountable provision of assistance for dying for people. Barry Sutch's death that's on the hands of every politician who ignores this, and every doctor who ignores this."

Mr Sutch faced a maximum of five years in jail. Family members two daughters, two sons and two stepdaughters placed a death notice in The Dominion Post on Wednesday, describing him as a "sufferer at rest".

Sutch family lawyer Keith Becker said last night that Mr Sutch would have defended the charge. The family was deeply saddened by his death.

Mr King, the legal adviser for Ms Martin's Dignity NZ group, said Mr Sutch's death "broke my heart".

The case highlighted the need for euthanasia reform. "It's an area where reform can be looked at and whether it does serve the public good for people like Barry to be prosecuted. In my opinion it does not.

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"It highlights once again that people facing criminal charges face enormous stress and often they face it alone."

Dr Nitschke said Mr Sutch should never have been charged, and the criminal case may have contributed to his death.

"What a tragedy. You could almost see this as being perhaps a consequence of that rather harsh interpretation of the law, and the pretty heavy-handed actions of the authorities," he said.

The police should be ashamed of themselves. "I think what they did is disgusting."

Police spokeswoman Kim Perks said that, although interviews had been completed, the file remained open. The officer in charge of the case would resume work on it on his return from leave and conclude any outstanding investigations.

Neighbours said the couple were very private "they kept to themselves, we never saw them. Occasionally we would see him mowing his lawns, but he never waved out", one said.

Another said Mr Sutch must have been severely traumatised by his wife's death, and castigated the court system for taking so long to process his charges. "It makes you wonder where the support services were."

- The Dominion Post

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