July 24 2017, updated 7:46am

Police ponder charges in euthanasia case

Last updated 00:20 25/05/2008

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Police may charge an American woman with murder after she was allegedly hired to smuggle euthanasia drugs into New Zealand for a non-terminally ill Aucklander to kill herself.

An investigation was launched 10 days ago amid claims Audrey Monica Wallis, 49, paid $12,000 to an American woman, Susan Wilson, who flew to New Zealand last August to help Wallis die using veterinary euthanasia drug Nembutal.

If proved, the case will set a precedent as the first known case of paid euthanasia in New Zealand.

Wilson openly admitted on a British documentary, which screened there last week, that she helped people to die, for a fee. The Sunday Star-Times has also seen a yet-to-be-aired film by Australian euthanasia organisation Exit International, on which the woman talks about how she helps people to die.

Wallis, 49, believed to be depressed and suffering health problems from an addiction to prescribed medications, died at home in Auckland last August. Her death was referred to the Auckland coroner but that investigation was put on hold once the police probe began.

According to a police source, Wilson would be charged with murder or assisting a suicide, which had penalties of life imprisonment and a maximum of 14 years' jail respectively.

Detective Senior Sergeant Kim Libby, of the North Shore CIB, said if police did charge her with such major offences, they would seek her extradition from America. "It's a serious matter someone has died."

It was also of public interest because Wilson publicly claimed she planned to continue offering her service of helping people to die for money, Libby said.

Family and friends were still being interviewed but a decision over whether charges would be laid was expected within a few weeks.

Wallis's case was revealed on the British documentary about Wilson and her colleague, euthanasia advocate George Exoo.

Right-to-die advocate Lesley Martin, head of Dignity New Zealand, was contacted by Wallis and Wilson independently last year, but Martin had little to do with either.

However, she said the documentary producer called her several weeks ago to tell her about the film and 10 days ago she complained to police over her concerns that Wallis was helped to die.

Exit International head Dr Philip Nitschke met Wilson about two years ago in Australia, when she approached him to help her contact people seeking her euthanasia services.

Exit interviewed her for a promotional film clip on her services, which was originally to be shown to its members, he said.

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On the film, she talked about her role, saying she remained with people while they died. "I usually stay and stroke somebody's hair or their hand long after they're dead, just to give them comfort."

She encouraged people to come to her state, North Carolina, if possible because it was not illegal there to be present when someone committed suicide, but she was prepared to travel anywhere around the world.

"In North Carolina, as long as you don't do the deed put it down their throats legally you're allowed to be in the room."

She said her fee covered travel expenses and the balance went into the Compassionate Chaplaincy, a non-profit organisation she and Exoo ran.

"This may be morbid humour I guess. Our motto is that we don't give people a leg up like most chaplaincies we give them a leg down. That's what we do. We don't aid people in living better, we aid people in dying better."

Wilson said some people booked her years in advance.

Wallis's family and friends declined to comment on the case, her former husband saying they wanted to stay out of the public eye. It was understood none of them knew she had had help to take her life and were shocked to hear of Wilson's involvement. In Wallis's death notice last year, her friends and family wrote: "Your pain and anguish is over, rest peacefully" and "Finally at peace".

deidre.mussen@star-times.co.nz

 

- Sunday Star Times

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