FOOD FOR THOUGHT: When the law is an ass . . .

Susan Austen: not your typical law-breaker.

Susan Austen in court (Credit stuff)

 Ann David says theSusan Austen case is fresh in our minds.

Her words, her on-camera manner, her smiling photos show her as a warm, life-loving, spirited woman who is befriended and loved by many.

Not, you would think, the law-breaking type.

But she did break it: she imported the illegal drug pentobarbitone into New Zealand.  Why on earth would she have done that?


The amazing Dr Nitschke

For the answer, we need to back-track to Australia in the year 1997 when Dr Phillip Nitschke gave up the unequal struggle to get assisted dying legalised through the Parliament of the Northern Territory.  It’s not that he hadn’t tried hard.

For years, he battled to demonstrate the need for some patients to receive relief at the end of life when their suffering became unbearable and nothing could be done to assuage it.

Dr Philip Nietschke

Phillip Nitschke

  • produced witnesses and statistics
  • petitioned, he argued his case in Parliament
  • drafted suggestions for legislation
  • did everything by the book.

For one triumphant year he was successful: the Northern Territory enacted assisted dying laws.  Then Roman Catholic Federal MP Kevin Andrews pulled rank and nullified them.

In frustration and despair, having lost years of time, effort and emotion, realising that to get the Federal Parliament to enact the will of the people was like pushing water uphill in a sieve, Nitschke decided to take a different route.

He abandoned his efforts to legalise assisted dying and instead made it his mission to directly inform people how to effect their own peaceful death.

Exit International

He set up a forum for his new initiative: Exit International.

Membership grew rapidly in several countries including in New Zealand.

There are many ways to end one’s life including those we all know about, but most methods are brutal and (worse still) unreliable.

The method of choice is pentobarbitone – fast, reliable, peaceful. 

But unobtainable unless you are prepared to break the law by ordering it online from overseas and having it delivered to your home.

Meanwhile in New Zealand …

Meanwhile, operating quietly, legally, unsensationally in the background is the End of Life Choice Society of NZ (aka the Voluntary Euthanasia Society).

It has been in existence for 40 years, (yes, forty!) writing letters to MPs, visiting them in their offices, presenting evidence of the need for safe assisted dying laws.

Its initiatives and support have sustained the legal reform movement in our country.

And for forty years, Parliamentarians have been turning a deaf ear and a blind eye.  

The asinine law gives a new face to crime

So where is a law-abiding citizen to turn when the only pathway to legal reform is wilfully blocked by the members of Parliament themselves?

Having tried by all legal means to get what they want and failed, growing older and more frail, with no other solutions in sight, some have turned to Exit International.

During the Austen hearings it emerged that at least 59 other parcels of pentobarbitone were intercepted over a number of years, presumably for the same reason.   Undoubtedly, a whole lot more will have slipped through without detection.

One could argue that this new face of crime is one of Parliament’s own making.

When the law is clearly an ass, expect otherwise law-abiding citizens to defy it.





Susan Austen is no criminal. and the law… in this case….is indeed an ass, much in need of an upgrade. But how many times do we, younger folk, have to experience the sudden unexplained loss of a much respected, much loved older friend, neighbour or relative before ‘it becomes ok’? I ask because as much as I respect freedom of choice and quality of life, I will, for the purpose of this conversation, balance that important view, with the good intentions out there, in the community, to care and love, through sickness and health. It is an honour, not a chore, to spend precious days caring for those who are dying, listening to them, laughing and crying with them and supporting their families. This is how a community learns empathy and compassion. To give unselfishly and love unselfishly. Maybe I am dreaming, but I hope those values are not lost in this day and age.

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