Australia Jury Will Consider Manslaughter Charge in Assisted Suicide Case

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 10, 2008   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Australia Jury Will Consider Manslaughter Charge in Assisted Suicide Case

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
June 10
, 2008

Canberra, Australia ( — An Australia jury will consider a manslaughter charge in the case of two women who are accused of murdering an Australia man. The common law wife of a former pilot and her friend 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 murdering Wylie in March 2006. They have pleaded not guilty to importing the drug from Mexico and using it in his death.

Justins, 59, has pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting Wylie’s suicide, while Jenning has admitted importing the drug that caused his death.

In the latest aspect of the case, Justice Roderick Howie on Tuesday ruled the jury could consider the crime of manslaughter in both cases.

"In some cases, no basis for manslaughter arises, while in (others) manslaughter is a verdict that is available on the evidence," Justice Howie said, according to a report in The West newspaper.

"I have determined that manslaughter is available on the evidence in this case," he added. "That does not mean that you should convict the accused of manslaughter, it simply means that the crown can put the charge before you."

This means the jury can decide between the murder, manslaughter and assisted suicide charges.

The two women 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.

During the trial, investigators have indicated that Justins may have killed Wylie because she wanted some of the more than $2.4 million he had in his estate.

According to The Daily Telegraph Wylie’s daughter Nicola Dumbrell told the jury that Justins asked her to write a letter supporting his Dignitas application for a suicide.

After Dignitas turned him down, "(Jenning) just brushed her hands in the air and said: ‘Oh it will be all right’, and that (euthanasia advocate) Dr Phillip Nitschke would be coming to assess my father," she said.

Dumbrell said she had a conversation about the estate with Justins and that Justins was upset that Wylie’s children may get most of the estate.

During the trial, there was also discussion that Justins got Wylie to change his will and leave her the overwhelming majority of his estate upon his death.

After he was turned down for the assisted suicide, 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.