Australia Jury Finds Women Guilty of Manslaughter in Key Euthanasia Case

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 19, 2008   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Australia Jury Finds Women Guilty of Manslaughter in Key Euthanasia Case

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
June 19
, 2008

Sydney, Australia ( — Two women charged in a controversial euthanasia-murder case have been found guilty of manslaughter. The common law wife of a former pilot and her friend had pleaded guilty in a New South Wales Supreme Court to murdering Graeme Wylie.

The women had refused offers from prosecutors to plead guilty to assisted suicide and, as a result, the jury found them guilty of manslaughter.

The women are accused of following the advice of Australian euthanasia campaigner Philip Nitschke, who suggested they give Wylie a lethal dose of Nembutal. They reportedly imported the drug from Mexico and used it in his death.

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.

Jenning, a former NSW representative of the euthanasia group Exit International, had hoped to use the case to overturn Australian law against assisted suicides and to establish that so-called mercy killings are compassionate and should be legal.

Instead, according to a Brisbane Times report, the jury found Justins, 59, guilty of manslaughter and Jenning, 75, guilty of being an accessory to manslaughter.

Outside the court, euthanasia advocate Philip Nitschke claimed Wylie still "knew what he was doing."

Nitschke operates the euthanasia group and the two women contacted him after the Swiss euthanasia group Dignitas turned Wylie down for an assisted suicide there after questioning his ability to consent to the death.

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.

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.

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.

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

Alex Schadenberg, the chairman of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, previously 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’s 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.

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