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Tuesday, 23 January, 2001, 22:24 GMT
Australia 'mercy killing' row
A euthanasia machine used to kill four people in the Northern Territory
Dr Philip Nitschke previously helped four people to die
Australian police are investigating the death of an elderly cancer-stricken woman after she gave a television interview with a euthanasia campaigner to tell how she wanted to end her suffering.

The Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) reported that Norma Hall, 72, had died at her Sydney home last Saturday following large doses of morphine.

The death instantly reignited the controversy in Australia over voluntary euthanasia, with right-to-life groups condemning the publicity surrounding the case as an attempt to advance the cause of euthanasia.

This is my own decision, made freely and without any pressure from family, friends and treating doctors

Statement from Norma Hall
Darwin-based voluntary euthanasia supporter Dr Philip Nitschke, who helped four cancer patients to die after mercy killing was briefly legalised in the Northern Territory in 1996, told the ABC he was with Ms Hall in her home when she died.

But he said had been careful not to provide anything that could be regarded as assistance to commit suicide, which is illegal in Australia.

No food

The programme revealed how, suffering from liver, bone and lung cancer, Ms Hall had undergone prolonged chemotherapy treatment.

It described how she had rejected the option of continuing treatment, which could have prolonged her life by a few months at best, and elected to starve herself to death.

She made a sworn statement saying she wanted to die at home in comfort, and added: "This is my own decision, made freely and without any pressure from family, friends and treating doctors."

She said she had also discussed her decision with her daughters and her son, the famous Australian mountaineer Lincoln Hall.

Decision discussed

A New South Wales police spokesman said an investigation was going on and a report was being prepared for the coroner.

But he declined to comment on reports charges were being considered against Dr Nitschke for assisting a suicide.

Dr Nitschke said from Darwin on Tuesday that he would co-operate with police, although ABC reported that he had initially refused to speak to them.

He told ABC that because he had received advice that it would be "dangerous" for him to sedate Ms Hall once she had stopped eating and drinking, he had assembled a team of doctors sympathetic to voluntary euthanasia to co-sign a prescription for the sedatives.

One was former Australian health minister Peter Baume, who said he was confident Ms Hall's decision was solely her own.

Seen by pschiatrists

Mr Baume, who was closely involved in the case as patron of the Coalition for Voluntary Euthanasia, said Ms Hall had been seen by two psychiatrists.

"One of the things you've got to be careful of is that someone isn't depressed, and that they're competent," he said.

"She was competent and she wasn't depressed."

Right-to-Life Australia chairwoman Margaret Tighe said she was disgusted by the participation in the programme of Dr Nitschke, whom she described as "Australia's doctor death".

'Political pressure'

"To try and win sympathy and exert political pressure to bring about the legalisation of patient killing in Australia I think is absolutely appalling," Ms Tighe said.

The Northern Territory government became the first in the world to legalise voluntary euthanasia in 1996.

But following an outcry by church leaders, right-to-lifers and Northern Territory aborigines, the Australian government passed legislation overriding the law eight months later.

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See also:

28 Nov 00 | Euthanasia
Lessons from Down Under
05 Jun 00 | Health
Euthanasia machine comes to UK
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