History of Euthanasia in NZ

History of Euthanasia Activism in New Zealand

Euthanasia activism began in New zealand in 1978 when members of the NZ Humanists Association and the Rationalists formed the Auckland Voluntary Euthanasia Society. Apart from sponsoring Derek Humphry on a speaking tour, things got off to a fairly slow start until 1995 when MP Michael Laws sought to introduce his Death with Dignity Bill. The Bill failed, as did MP Peter Brown's 2003 Death with Dignity Bill. The profile of euthanasia and assisted suicide has since been raised by campaigners Lesley Martin and Australian Dr Philip Nitschke.

First Death with Dignity Bill

Inspired by the Australian Northern Territory Act which legalised assisted suicide, Michael Laws, then the National MP for Hawkes Bay, launched his own “Death with Dignity” Bill in 2003. On the 2nd August, 1995 before introducing his Bill into Parliament later that evening, Laws went on the Paul Holmes Show and indicated that the law might also apply to disabled children. It is believed that this may have affected the vote which was 61 votes to 29 against, with many abstentions.

Wanganui Public Forum on Euthanasia

A Public Forum on Euthanasia was held in Wanganui on April 23rd 2003, as a consequence of the high level of media attention given to pro-voluntary euthanasia activists. The forum's convenors "believed that by bringing together people who promoted life and were qualified in specific areas, another view of the subject could be fully unpacked and so become a more thorough source of information for everyone."

History of the New Zealand Voluntary Euthanasia Society

An interview with Jack Jones, the Secretary of the Auckland Voluntary Euthanasia Society. Mr Jones details the formation and early activism of the NZ Voluntary Euthanasia Society and the forming of the Auckland Voluntary Euthanasia Society.He discusses the legalisation of assisted suicide in the Northern Territory of Australia and the Michael Laws Death with Dignity Bill in 1995 as well as the way the Courts are now handling cases of assisted suicide.

The 2003 Death with Dignity Bill

MP Peter Brown introduced a second Death with Dignity Bill in 2003. The wording of Brown's Bill was identicle to the 1995 Laws Bill except that Laws’s Bill allowed for “terminally and incurably ill persons”, whereas Brown’s Bill says “terminally and/or incurably ill persons.” The and/or means that the person would not have to be dying to be helped to die. The bill was defeated at the first reading by 60 votes to 58 in a conscience vote for MPs. One MP abstained and one did not vote.

The Lesley Martin story

After giving her mother Joy an overdose of morphine on May 28 1999, Lesley Martin wrote a book describing the events that took place, leading to her arrest and conviction for attempted murder in 2004. With Dr Philip Nitschke, Martin formed EXIT NZ (now Dignity NZ) to campaign for the legalisation of assisted suicide in New Zealand.