Euthanasia Rampant in New Zealand, Doctors Admit Hastening Death

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 26, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Euthanasia Rampant in New Zealand, Doctors Admit Hastening Death

by Maria Gallagher Staff Writer
June 26, 2004

Wellington, New Zealand ( — Euthanasia is rampant in New Zealand, according to a study released in the New Zealand Medical Journal.

The study revealed that nearly 700 physicians have admitted to hastening the deaths of terminally ill patients — even though it is illegal to do so.

Some 693 general practitioners conceded that they had taken part in a physician-assisted death during the last year.

The incidences occurred despite the fact that palliative care was available for the patients.

In a staggering 380 cases, the doctor hastened a patient’s death without even talking with the patient first — an action labeled "legally dubious" by the survey’s authors. Dr. Kay Mitchell of the Department of Psychology at Auckland University and British clinical psychology professor Glynn Owens conducted the survey.

The doctors involved said they did not discuss the issue with the patients because the victims were too ill.

However, in 88 cases in which the patient was judged competent by the doctor, there was still no discussion.

Mitchell and Owens stated, "Legal or not, physician-assisted death is an international reality and New Zealand is no exception with such actions occurring in an apparently palliative rich environment."

While hundreds of doctors admitted to hastening death in the anonymous survey, their actions appear to have been cloaked in secrecy. The research team noted that the psychological effect of physician-assisted suicide on the doctors themselves can be profound.

Pro-life advocates have been successful in blocking the legalization of euthanasia in New Zealand, but new attempts to permit such killings have resurfaced.

In August, New Zealand First deputy leader Peter Brown attempted to introduce legislation that would have allowed terminally ill patients to seek assistance in ending their lives.

However, Parliament ultimately defeated the bill.

The hotly-debated issue emerged again when euthanasia advocate Lesley Martin was sentenced to 15 months in jail for the attempted murder of her terminally ill mother.

Martin, who had worked as an intensive care nurse, was found guilty in March of trying to kill her mother Joy by injecting her with 60 mg of morphine.

Joy Martin, who had cancer, died May 28, 1999.

But her daughter’s criminal actions did not come to light until three years later, when Lesley Martin published a book, To Die Like a Dog. In it, she confessed to giving morphine to her mother.

In light of the publicity surrounding the Martin case, Brown said he would renew his legislative push to legalize euthanasia in New Zealand. However, pro-life advocates hope that, as palliative care improves, the drive toward euthanasia will lose ground.

Related web sites:
Right to Life New Zealand –