One of New Zealand's leading euthanasia campaigners went on trial yesterday for the attempted murder of her terminally ill mother, in a case being watched by advocates of mercy killing.
Former intensive care nurse Lesley Martin, who wrote a book detailing how she tried to help her 69-year-old mother to die, faces a lengthy jail term if convicted in the trial she hopes will force a change in the law.
But prosecutors at the High Court trial in Wanganui, south of Auckland, insist Martin's pro-mercy killing platform is further evidence to convict her for administering a "huge overdose" of morphine to end her mother's life.
A 1999 probe into the death of Joy Martin was originally dropped due to inconclusive post-mortem reports, but criminal proceedings were revived three years later after the publication of her daughter's book To Die Like a Dog.
"Based on the amount of morphine she administered to her mother ... and her clear support within the book for a law change to allow for what she did, which, in my submission to you, is unlawful, she was charged with attempted murder," said prosecutor Andrew Cameron.
Martin extensively campaigned around the country for the legalization of euthanasia ahead of the trial, which comes less than a year after parliament narrowly rejected a Death With Dignity bill at its first reading.
"This is not just my trial," she wrote last week, "this is the trial of everyone who's ever made a promise that they would help someone die gently if necessary, and the trial of every doctor who has helped and remained silent."
She said that she was on "a journey ... to stand tall for those New Zealanders who embrace their freedom of choice." The trial is expected to last two weeks.
Martin, who co-founded lobbying group Exit New Zealand, has drawn attention to the fact that doctors are already helping terminally ill patients to die.She says now is the time for the issue to be bought into the open.
A survey by New Zealand's Massey University in 2002 among 1,000 respondents, however, found 70 percent support for doctor-supported suicide in cases of painful incurable disease.
That figure fell to 49 percent in the case of a relative helping the patient end their life.