Australian Women Plead Not Guilty to Assisted Suicide in Nitschke Case

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 5, 2008   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Australian Women Plead Not Guilty to Assisted Suicide in Nitschke Case

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
May 5
, 2008

Canberra, Australia ( — Two Australian women have pleaded not guilty in a New South Wales Supreme Court to murdering Graeme Wylie. The women are accused of following the advice of Australian euthanasia campaigner Philip Nitschke, who suggested they give Wylie a lethal dose of Nembutal.

Wylie suffered from dementia and couldn’t remember his own birthday or how many children he had.

Shirley Justins, Wylie’s partner, and their friend Caren Jennings are accused of helping Wylie kill himself in March 2006. They have pleaded not guilty to importing the drug from Mexico and using it in his death.

The two are members of the pro-euthanasia group Exit International that Nitschke operates. They contacted Nitschke after the Swiss euthanasia group Dignitas turned Wylie down for an assisted suicide there after questioning his ability to consent to the death.

Dignitas asked Nitschke to evaluate Wylie’s condition, but he did not do so because he wanted to help in the suicide himself.

According to the Brisbane Times, the new South Wales Supreme Court heard testimony in the case that Nitschke was "hell-bent on doing his best" to support the women’s effort to kill Wylie.

Crown prosecutor Mark Tedeschi says Wylie did not have the ability to consent to an assisted suicide, which is illegal in Australia, and argued the two women should be charged with murder.

The newspaper indicated both women had motive to kill Wylie.

"Shirley Justins had a strong financial motive … and also a personal motive in wanting Mr Wylie deceased. Caren Jenning … was ideologically motivated [and] had a personal motive in assisting Shirley Justins to kill Graeme Wylie," Tedeschi said.

Alex Schadenberg, the chairman of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, commented on the case and said it emphasizes two important issues.

"The euthanasia lobby is not really concerned about consent. Even someone who is suffering from Alzheimer or dementia can be killed, even when consent is not possible," he said.

"The second point is that the euthanasia lobby is not concerned with the health of their victims. They are only concerned with a change in the law, and once the law is changed, they are really concerned with facilitating death," he added.

To validate his point, he noted Oregon’s assisted suicide law and indicated the state health department’s law report showed none of the 49 assisted suicide deaths in 2007 were first referred to a psychiatrist or a psychologist.

That’s required by the law when the doctor suspects possible depression or mental issues.