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May 22, 2017 | by  | in News |
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Euthanasia Case Before the Courts

Susan Austen, Wellington co-ordinator for pro-euthanasia group Exit International, pleaded not guilty to three charges connected with assisted suicide in the Wellington District Court on May 12.

The charges allege that in 2015, Austen imported Pentobarbital, a Class C drug often used in euthanasia; and that she assisted the suicide of 77-year old Annemarie Treadwell in 2016, who was also an  Exit International member.

Exit International set up a crowdfunding campaign for Austen’s legal funding, which had raised $46,897 of a $50,000 goal at the time of print.

Austen’s lawyer, Donald Stevens QC, entered the not guilty pleas on her behalf. Wellington District Court Judge Peter Hobbs remanded her on bail until July for a case review hearing.

Assisting suicide carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison.

Euthanasia has been the subject of much moral and legal debate. The End of Life Choice Bill, which calls for the decriminalisation of euthanasia, received 21,277 submissions, from both sides of the debate — the most made on any bill at the select committee stage.

Care Alliance, a group opposed to the legalisation of euthanasia and medically-assisted suicide, reported that 16,411 of the submissions opposed legalisation, while 4142 supported it.

VUW student Louise Grey argues in her article published in the Public Interest Journal of New Zealand, “The Person Who Really Loves Me Will be the One Who Helps Me Die”, that the criminalisation of assisted suicide is inconsistent with the right to life, following the high profile case of Seales v Attorney General.

In 2015, terminally ill lawyer Lecretia Seales sought two declarations by the High Court — a declaration that her doctor would not be acting unlawfully in assisting her death; and (in the alternative) that the provisions in the Crimes Act governing murder and assisted suicide were inconsistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. Seales was unsuccessful in her case and passed away on June 5, 2015.

Grey argues in her article that the judge in Seales’ case “should have at least granted a declaration of inconsistency” based on a wide interpretation of the right to life to include the right to die in the Bill of Rights Act 1990.

Tasha Russell, legal director of Exit International told Salient that their organisation “believes that it is the right of every rational adult to choose when and how they die.”

“Suzy certainly believes this and has advocated for this to the absolute best of her ability.”

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