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Photo: RNZ / Eric Frykberg
Susan Austen denied three charges this morning.
Susan Austen, 66, is accused of helping Annemarie Treadwell, 77, commit suicide between December 2015 and June 2016.
She is also charged with two counts of importing the sedative narcotic pentobarbitane, also known as Nembutol, which is a class C drug.
Ms Austen is the former chairperson of the Wellington branch of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society.
The case arose after police used a breath-testing stop to target voluntary euthanasia supporters as they left a meeting in Lower Hutt last October.
Ms Austen was remanded on bail until July.
The court will hear a request to alter her bail conditions next week.
Assisting suicide carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison, but opponents of the law want that changed.
Meanwhile, the End of Life Choice Voluntary Euthanasia Society called for the law to be changed to allow people who were suffering to end their own lives.
Outside the courtroom the society's president, Maryan Street, declined to comment on the case but criticised the law.
"What I do condemn is the idiocy of the law that makes compassion a crime.
"That is the thing that we are striving to change. It seems still to me that the only people in the country who don't understand this are the MPs."
Ms Street said people sometimes conflated legitimate concerns about the youth suicide rate with rational decisions by people to end their own suffering.
Assisted dying is currently under consideration by parliament's Health Select Committee.
The Health Select Committee concluded hearings on the End of Life Choice petition this week. Here is a good roundup of views by Chris Bramwell of RNZ. Let's hope they bring out a brave and forward-looking report for the next Government to act on. They could look to Victoria for a good example.
Radio NZ's Deputy Political Editor, Chris Bramwell talks to VESNZ's Maryan Street, Act Party's David Seymour and others about the thorny topic. Click here to listen »
Monday, February 13 2017
I thank the committee for the opportunity to make a personal submission on voluntary euthanasia which I believe to be one of the most critical issues facing society today.
I wish to speak on only one aspect – the need for provision of an end-of-life directive to be included in legislation allowing physician-assisted dying.
Why do I feel so strongly on this issue? My wife was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s Disease at the age of 48. Two years later, I had to make arrangements for her to attend a day care centre so that I could continue working.
As her condition deteriorated I could no longer care for her and at the age of 52 she was admitted to a secure unit at Porirua Hospital. She died aged 55 after falling and breaking a hip. She never recovered from the resulting replacement surgery.
We had been married 33 years, had three children and happily survived the stresses and strains of moving a family to and from five countries dictated by my work.
She was a strong, capable, independent and proud woman and her rapid decline with its consequent loss of dignity distressed her, me and our children enormously.
Her advanced Alzheimer’s meant she was incontinent, unable to feed and dress herself, or recognise friends and family. A pioneering female journalist and a feminist before the word became fashionable, she could no longer write, read, or take part in the social intercourse that made her a popular friend to hundreds of people we met around the world.
She spent her days in Porirua endlessly walking the confined corridors of the secure unit – it was a prison of necessity because while Alzheimer’s patients pose no threat to society, they wander and have to be locked up for their own safety.
That was her “unbearable suffering” – a phrase you are hearing much about.
I knew Frances well and I know that she did not want to live in that condition and would have welcomed the ability to choose an end to her suffering had she retained her mental faculties. She could have lived in misery for another 30 years or so - an unbearable prospect for anyone - and her early demise was a blessing for her and us all.
I submit that an End-of-Life Directive requesting a physician’s help to end suffering if a person developed severe dementia should be included in far-sighted legislation.
It will, of course, have to be signed and witnessed before the onset of dementia with all the safeguards one expects to be included in the new law permitting physician-assisted dying.
I have signed an Advance Directive for Health Care declaring that if I develop Alzheimer’s, a terminal illness or severe degenerative disease, cannot recognise my family and am mentally incompetent to accept or decline life sustaining treatment I should not be resuscitated, placed on life support or fed by conventional or artificial means.
When the law is changed, I would want these provisions superseded by a request for a physician to end my life so that I could die peacefully in the company of friends and family rather than have to resort to a lonely suicide to end my suffering.
Spending years with dementia is the biggest fear of many people – it is feared more than cancer, for example - and I suggest that anyone who has experienced the horror of watching a loved one suffer the ravages of that most terrible of diseases would prefer a merciful release.
I believe a law change is inevitable because the majority of people want it – 66% are in favour, according to a survey published in the New Zealand Medical Journal last month.
I want to stress that people like me are talking only of “voluntary” euthanasia for those who want the choice to end unbearable suffering. I hope that stories like mine will help convince the committee to recommend a compassionate new law that upholds the human right to die, as well as to live, as we wish.
I would like to finish with an anecdote about a young American soldier caught in a hail of machine gun fire as his unit landed on a Normandy beach on D-Day in 1944.
The bullets tore through his chest, shot off an arm and blew away most of his face. His pain was unimaginable; his fate obvious. He begged his mates to end his suffering with a bullet.
…Is there anyone in this room who would have denied him?
Friday, 13 January 2017, 2:27 pm
Fresh evidence that an overwhelming majority of New Zealanders favour medically assisted dying for the terminally ill should convince politicians to change the law, a spokesman for the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, said Friday.
Dr Jack Havill, VESNZ immediate past president, said Parliament’s health select committee, which is currently holding a public inquiry into the issue of voluntary euthanasia, should take heed of the survey in the latest New Zealand Medical Journal showing that just 12 per cent of people opposed it.
“The question must be asked why our politicians are so cagey about promoting a changed law,” he said. “They must be scared of the vocal 12 per cent minority.”
Eyeing the coming general election, Dr Havill said: “Perhaps they should say to themselves that there are lots of votes to be gained here and a well presented law would probably have over 80 per cent support by the time some of the neutral group made up their minds.”
The University of Auckland survey of 15,822 people published in the NZ Medical Journal concluded: “There is strong public support for euthanasia when people are asked whether doctors should be allowed by law to end the life of a patient with a painful incurable disease upon their request.”
It found 66 per cent in favour, 21.7 per cent neutral or unsure and 12.3 per cent strongly opposed.
Dr Havill said support for medically assisted dying was growing in line with the trend around the world with the number of New Zealanders in favour over three per cent higher than the 62.9 per cent recorded in a Horizon Research survey in 2012. The percentage opposed remained the same.
The health select committee considering the issue received the largest number of submissions ever sent to Parliament for a public inquiry.
Parliament heavily defeated the first bid to change the law which makes it a crime to help somebody to die in 1995 but a new Death with Dignity Bill was lost by only one vote in 2003.
VESNZ's President, "Maryan Street, once planned to become a Presbyterian minister. Now she says religion has no place in deciding the law on how New Zealanders can die."
Click here for full article on Stuff.co.nz »
The Voluntary Euthanasia Society of NZ Waikato Branch held an open forum on 25 September 2016.
Here are the videos of the addresses from Maryan Street, VESNZ's new President, and Kevin Hague, former Green Party MP.
Thanks to Joe Baxter for footage.
The growing campaign for the right to die with dignity will be marked on Wednesday, November 2 around the world and in New Zealand, where a Parliamentary committee is holding an inquiry into the issue.
“EOLC/VES calls on the Police to pause Operation Painter on this international day of activism and stop harassing elderly people by turning up at their homes to question them, which is still going on ,” said Maryan Street, President of the End Of Life Choice / Voluntary Euthanasia Society.
“All around the world we are seeing countries, together with an increasing number of states in America, acknowledging the force of public opinion in favour of assisted dying,”
She said there was mounting reassuring evidence from countries where the power of compassion has provided for law changes to make assisted dying legal.
“The changes allow people who are terminally ill, or suffering irremediable conditions which have rendered their lives unbearable by their own assessment, to get medical assistance to die at a time and in a manner of their own choosing.”
Assisted dying is legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Colombia, Canada and six American states. A Parliamentary committee has recommended a law change in the Australian state of Victoria and a similar Bill is currently being debated by South Australian legislators.
At home, the Health Select Committee received a record 21,533 submissions on the issue, indicating intense public interest in a potential law change. It is hearing more submissions at 10.00am today at Parliament.
“Local branches of EOLC/VES will hold activities in their own areas with stalls or information points set up to help people to understand the issues and urge their Members of Parliament to support enlightened legislation,” Maryan Street said.
“The right to die with dignity will be pressed home to politicians and the public around the world on Wednesday, 2 November,” said Maryan Street, President of the New Zealand group agitating for law reform in this area.
“Tonight’s extraordinary media conference by the Acting Wellington District Police Commander stretches credibility about Police conduct towards members of a voluntary euthanasia group,” says Maryan Street, President of the End of Life Choice / Voluntary Euthanasia Society.
“It has become increasingly apparent that no one is prepared to say that the roadblock at Maungaraki, targeting elderly citizens, was lawful. This raises the possibility that the lawfulness of the search warrants and arrest which occurred in the wake of that exercise are now also in doubt.
“I welcome the involvement of the Privacy Commissioner and his suggestion of possible referral to the Human Rights Review Tribunal, which has the ability to award sizeable damages for breaches of the Bill of Rights Act.
“I have two main concerns about the explanation offered by the Police tonight.
“First, the claim that the checkpoint was set up ‘on the fly’ when it is clear to all that considerable planning and allocation of resources, staff and equipment, are required for any breath-testing checkpoints.
“Secondly, the claim that action was required ‘for the preservation of life’ does not bear scrutiny. If it was a life and death matter, why did it take Police a week to visit people in their homes? In addition, suicide is not a crime and nor is discussing end of life choices.
“Every fresh revelation about Operation Painter reinforces why a law change is needed. Agencies of the state do not have some higher, noble duty to interfere with rational decisions of competent adults who do not want pastoral care forced upon them. If we had a humane law on assisted dying, people would not be driven to take such serious measures into their own hands,” said Maryan Street.
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