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Euthanasia Request May Be World First

Euthanasia Request May Be World First, Says Canty Health

Christchurch, June 7 - Canterbury Health believes the case of a patient who wants to be allowed to die may be a world first.

Blenheim man Brian Park, 32, who broke his neck in two places after a truck accident and is a tetraplegic at Burwood Hospital, has written to Canterbury Health asking for his ventilator to be turned off.

Mr Park said in a statement prepared by his lawyer that he knew the action would result in his immediate death, but it was his wish that the step be taken ``without delay''. His immediate family supported him.

Canterbury Health was now undertaking a series of physical and mental tests to determine if Mr Park was competent to make such a decision and would prepare documents for a likely court hearing on the issue.

Canterbury Health spokeswoman Allanah James told NZPA today the crown health enterprise had never faced such a dilemma and it might be the first case in the world involving someone with a lengthy life expectancy seeking hospital intervention to enable him to die.

``We think it could well be a world-first,'' Ms James said.

``Usually people who want to have the plug pulled are near death. This chap's got 30 or 40 years left like this (a tetraplegic), but he's choosing to end his life early.

``It's not about ending his life because he's in the last days of pain. He has decades to go,'' she said.

Canterbury Health solicitor Michael Hundleby said the issue was ``solely one of competence''.

Canterbury Health had to determine if a head injury Mr Park suffered in the truck accident and his depression affected his ability to decide to end his life.

``The issue from the clinicians' point of view is that under the Crimes Act medical practitioners must provide the necessities of life,'' Mr Hundleby said.

If doctors did not, they faced potential homicide charges.

Mr Hundleby said if Mr Park was clearly competent and there were no issues, such as the head injury and depression, court action might be unnecessary. But medical practitioners were in a ``very invidious position''.

Any court action taken by Canterbury Health would be to seek a judicial declaration that medical practitioners in Mr Park's case would not face criminal charges if the ventilator was switched off.

Mr Hundleby said Mr Park had raised the issue of costs involved in litigation and Canterbury Health would meet the costs of an expert competency assessment and an application for court documents ``to start this process going''.

The High Court would not be able to consider the application until Canterbury Health had expert opinion.

``We're trying to get agreement as to who those experts are so there's no dispute when it comes to court action,'' he said.

Medical Association chairwoman Pippa MacKay told NZPA Mr Park's case illustrated a difficult question for doctors.

``In organisations such as ours there will be enthusiasts for euthanasia and those who vehemently oppose it,'' Dr MacKay said.

The association, after seeking advice from its ethics committee some years ago, had adopted a policy of not supporting euthanasia.

``While recognising there are situations in which certain people might feel it is the right thing to do, we don't feel as a doctors' group we can support it,'' she said.

Dr MacKay said Mr Park's circumstances were ``absolutely ghastly'' and doctors would recognise the ``appalling'' position in which he found himself and his inability to do anything about it.

``I have considerable sympathy with this man and his desires. None of us would wish to see people suffering like that, but there's no easy answer.''

A spokeswoman for Health and Disability Commissioner Ron Paterson said the commissioner did not wish to comment on a matter that would likely be aired in court proceedings.

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