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Majority of Kiwis support assisted suicide - poll

Published: 2:02PM Friday September 14, 2012 Source: ONE News

Up to 63% of New Zealanders support legalising assisted suicide for mentally competent adults suffering from a terminal illness, a new poll has found.

The poll conducted by Horizon research asked 2969 respondents - reported to be a representative sample of adult New Zealanders - if they supported or opposed the assisted suicide in the case of mentally competent adults who are terminally ill.

The poll found 62.9% were in support, 15.8% neutral, 12.3% opposed and 9% were not sure.

Labour MP Maryan Street, who has a Right to Life bill in the ballot at Parliament, believes the poll shows New Zealanders now want "greater compassion in the law".

She said the poll findings, and a court's decision to discharge a man involved in a case of assisted suicide yesterday, have reignited the controversial euthanasia debate.

"This is about self-determining adults in life being able to be self-determining about their moment and method of death.

"It is not set up in opposition to palliative care, which is a wonderful option for many people. It is about people, in these circumstances only, being able to make that hardest of choices if they want to," said Street.

The poll found men were slightly more likely to be opposed (14.2%) to the law change than women (12.2%) while the level of support was reasonably even between the sexes at 62.6 and 63.1% respectively.

There was also majority support among ethnicities with 65% of Maori, Pakeha and Indian people supporting it, 61.5% of Pacific Islanders and 55.3% of Asian people.

Support was particularly high among respondents aged 45-54 (71.6%) and 55-64 (65.3%).

The majority of people (66.9%) also supported the introduction of End of Life Directives - legal documents that outline a person's wish for medically assisted death should the issue arise.

On Thursday, Evans James Mott, 61, was discharged without conviction at the Auckland High Court for assisting in the suicide of his wife.

Rosemary Mott, 57, died at her home in Paritai Drive, Orakei, on December 28 last year after battling an aggressive form of multiple sclerosis for more than four years.

In May, her husband of 24 years pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting her suicide by allegedly helping her to research euthanasia and acquiring equipment and material for her.

One supporter of Street's bill understands what Mott went through. Carole Sweney's husband Ian died from motor neuron disease.

"For him it was unbearable, not only discomfort, but he was no longer the person he wanted to be," she told ONE News.

"I was obviously determined after he died that if there was any way I could change the law, I should be doing it."

Dangerous precedent

A representative for Family Life International argued Mott's lack of conviction set a dangerous precedent for assisted suicide cases in New Zealand.

Spokesman Brendan Roberts told TV ONE's Breakfast this morning the decision sent the message to people "that you have the right to take your own life".

In particular, Roberts said the decision said to society's most vulnerable - school children and the elderly - that there is no hope.

"We're saying to children, that you've got the right to take your own life.

"Why are we giving them this message, when some students are already feeling helpless?" said Roberts.

And the chair of the New Zealand Medical Association, Paul Ockelford, said euthanasia would still be unethical in the eyes of the medical profession even if it became lawful.

"Doctors have a moral contract with society and their patients to preserve life and that contract is underpinned by trust," he said.

With Fairfax

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