Australian Man Escapes Conviction After Euthanasia of His Mother

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 31, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Australian Man Escapes Conviction After Euthanasia of His Mother

by Maria Gallagher Staff Writer
May 31, 2004

Tasmania, Australia( — In what pro-life advocates see as a stunning injustice, a Tasmanian man has escaped imprisonment in Australia for his role as an accomplice in the suicide of his 88-year-old mother.

Sixty-three-year-old John Stuart Godfrey received a 12-month suspended sentence for helping his mother kill herself in December of 2002.

In a chilling statement, Justice Peter Underwood of the Supreme Court of Tasmania said Godfrey’s crime "was motivated solely by compassion and love."

A spokeswoman for the Australian Federation of Right to Life Associations, Mary Joseph, said the judgment undermined legal protection for vulnerable people contemplating suicide.

"Underwood’s comment that love and compassion motivated Mr. Godfrey raises the question of whether other lethal crimes of passion can be excused," Joseph said.

Justice Underwood did, however, say that to dismiss the crime without sanction would diminish the sanctity of life and trivialize the significance of Godfrey’s illegal act.

Yet, Underwood added that the law seemed to discriminate against people who wanted to end their lives but were not physically able to do so.

Godfrey, an oceanographer, is calling for the law to be changed.

The scientist said, "Its replacement must be affirmed to be fair by all the varieties of loving, honest families found in our State. It must also contain strong safeguards against genuinely criminal abuse."

However, pro-life advocates note that people who seek assistance to end their lives are often clinically depressed. Pro-life leaders add that the emphasis should be placed on treating pain, rather than killing a patient.

Also, laws permitting assisted suicide run the risk of making the elderly and the infirm believe that they have a "duty to die."

The defendant in the Australian case faced up to 21 years in prison, but was able to walk out of court a free man as a result of the Supreme Court’s perplexing decision.

Meanwhile, euthanasia campaigners in Australia are claiming victory in light of the court ruling.

Elizabeth Godfrey, a well-known celebrity chef, was also an outspoken advocate of euthanasia and had been a member of pro-euthanasia groups for 20 years. Published reports said she did not want to be a burden to others after a series of illnesses left her unable to live independently.

She tried unsuccessfully to commit suicide in 1998 and November of 2002, claiming she was driven by pain intensified by her allergy to morphine.

According to published reports, Godfrey’s final suicide attempt was carefully-planned, with her son taking part in a "rehearsal" prior to her death.

He reportedly helped his mother end her life through the use of prescription drugs and a plastic bag placed over her head.

Outside the courtroom, Godfrey said, "My mother was a woman who lived her entire life boldly, and she wanted to meet her death in the same bold and independent spirit."

The Godfrey case is the second noteworthy euthanasia case to appear in the world press in the past month.

In New Zealand, assisted suicide activist Lesley Martin is appealing the 15-month jail sentence she received for the "mercy killing" of her mother.

Martin injected her mother, Joy, with a massive amount of morphine, then smothered her with a pillow the next day. She’s the founder of a pro-euthanasia group in New Zealand.

Euthanasia is illegal in New Zealand and parliament rejected a bill last year to legalize it.

Related web sites:
Australian Federation of Right to Life Association –