Australia Woman Shirley Justins Who Killed Partner in Euthanasia Gets Prison

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 14, 2008   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Australia Woman Shirley Justins Who Killed Partner in Euthanasia Gets Prison

by Steven Ertelt Editor
November 14
, 2008

Sydney, Australia ( — A woman involved in a controversial euthanasia-murder case who was found guilty of manslaughter will be headed to prison for two years. Shirley Justins, 60, was sentenced on Wednesday to spend her weekends in jail over the course of that time.

The common law wife of a former pilot and her friend had pleaded guilty in a New South Wales Supreme Court in June 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.

Judge Roderick Howie sentenced Justins to 22 months of periodic detention, with a maximum term of 30 months.

Caren Jenning, 75, who made the trip to Mexico for the drug, normally used in veterinary circumstances, was sentenced in June for being an accessory. She committed suicide in September, saying she didn’t want to die in jail.

Wylie’s daughter, Tania Shakespeare, welcomed the sentence handed out to Justins in part because Justins prevented Wylie’s family from saying goodbye and did not tell them of the plan to kill him.

"She did deceive our family. She did deceive Dad," she said. "I’m heartbroken that I wasn’t able to say goodbye to my father."

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.

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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