"I'm making this movie so that nobody is under the illusion that I've been coerced into what I've done. Or I've been murdered, or for that matter, committed suicide. I am euthanising myself . . . Okay. That's it. See ya."
Auckland woman Rosemary Mott's farewell video message to family and friends was harrowing, poignant, compelling and courageous. Some time after recording it, the 55-year-old asked her husband Evans to "go to the supermarket" and when he returned a few hours later he found his wife dead.
Mr Mott, 61, was subsequently charged with aiding and abetting the death of his wife, who suffered from an aggressive, incurable form of multiple sclerosis and committed suicide at their Auckland home last December. He readily admitted having helped prepare a "suicide kit" and pleaded guilty in May, but after compelling representations at the sentencing hearing and extensive deliberations, the judge last week discharged him without conviction.
The decision was a landmark one. It appears to reflect growing public support for assisted suicide in certain circumstances - perhaps driven by a series of equally harrowing cases in recent years. The changing tide of opinion might also be seen in the progressively lenient sentences handed down in some high profile "euthanasia" cases: 2004, Lesley Martin, 15 months' jail; 2011, Sean Davison, five months' home detention; 2012, Evans Mott, discharged.
The decision comes as the euthanasia debate is being rekindled with an attempt by Nelson-based Labour list MP Maryan Street to push a law change by way of a private member's bill in Parliament. The House has rejected two previous death-with-dignity bills, in 1995 (lost 61 votes to 29) and 2003 (defeated by just 60-57).
Last month, Prime Minister John Key's claim that euthanasia is already happening in New Zealand hospitals, and he would consider it if terminally ill, was a further pointer to a change in public opinion. However, Ms Street's bill will only reach the House if it is drawn through a random ballot, so if or when politicians will find themselves once again deliberating this particularly vexing issue is not known.
No one viewing Mrs Mott's final message or contemplating the circumstances and pressures surrounding such cases can fail to be moved. Mr Mott - forced to confront the issue more personally than many of us ever will - is clear in his view on the law as it stands. "I think it's barbaric; the system that we have is medieval," he says. That his wife had to die alone added considerably to the family's distress. "For Rosie to be that sick and to die alone by her own hand, that's not right. Our family should have been around her to say goodbye."
The police made the right decision in charging Mr Mott, as traumatic as that must have been for him and the family. Under current law they had no choice, and it was appropriate that an objective judicial analysis was able to consider the facts and nuances.
It is equally appropriate that a compassionate decision was reached. Should Ms Street's bill be drawn it could lead to a more sensitive way of dealing with such cases. Irrespective of that, euthanasia law is a debate as important as it is challenging, and one that will not go away.
- © Fairfax NZ News