Lesley Martin: My Trial, Your Trial ...
By Lesley Martin
Republished at the request of the author.
Today is Sunday. Its 8 sleeps until March 15th when I stand trial for the attempted murder of my mother, Joy Martin, in May 1999.
When our parents die, we grieve as two souls, the adult with an understanding of life, the human condition, and the natural course of things. And as a child, who will forever look for their blessed smile and turn instantly their way in our time of need.
So I tell you now, that it is only 8 sleeps until you judge me.
Tomorrow, however, I will wake as the adult and embark upon a head-spinning itinerary that will take me from New Plymouth to Wellington to Christchurch to Wellington to Hamilton to Auckland to New Plymouth and then to Wanganui, finally, for the two week trial.
When the Death With Dignity Bill was passed over by one non-vote and one abstention on July 30th 2003, New Zealanders were denied their opportunity to have their voices heard on the issue of Voluntary Euthanasia, at the heart of which is individual freedom of choice. I was already well into a journey that began for me five years ago and in the absence of a proactive national organisation in New Zealand to stand tall for those New Zealanders who embrace their freedom of choice, I put my hand up.
EXIT New Zealand was formed.
At the start it was literally just me. But as seven months have passed, many good people have contacted me and joined EXIT NZ to the point where we have recently become an Incorporated Society to provide a legal framework to support our rapid growth. Why is there a need for EXIT NZ? Because many New Zealanders feel that the issue of Voluntary Euthanasia deserves a fair, level headed hearing. In true Kiwi tradition, they want to have their say.
Very soon after the DWD Bill was denied, I was contacted by a member of the New Zealand Medical Association who expressed keen disappointment that the NZMA had issued a stand against the legislation without first canvassing its members. Cold I do anything about it?
We (myself and a handful of hardworking EXIT NZ members) sent out hundreds of letters to medical practitioners asking them the question:
"The Issue of Voluntary Euthanasia and End-Of-Life Decisions in New Zealand Requires Formal Examination".Yes or No.
The replies, both for and against ranged from mere ticks, to spirited and detailed responses. From these, I learnt that a very real fear of Palliative Care providers is that, if VE were to be legalised, funding to Hospices would be cut. This is not an issue of Hospice versus VE. In an enlightened society, there is a requirement for both.
At present, Hospices in NZ receive funding partially from the Government, relying heavily on community support and fundraising to meet their needs.
Yet, arguably, the service provided does not meet the needs of the individuals they serve. I say arguably because many people are helped without fault by their local Hospice. But, there are many people who seem to fall through the gaps and for them, the experience is a bitter one, evidenced by the number of people who approach me, each with a story to tell.
What we see as a result is a defensive reaction from Hospice.
If the gaps were shown, perhaps they would lose their public support?
So where to from here?. EXIT NZ submitted an Open Letter to Select Committee (Health and Social Services, Chaired by Georgina Beyer, MP) accompanied by hundreds of signatures gathered from all over New Zealand and 100 examples of the Doctor's replies (50 for, 50 against … and yes, to those Doctors who especially requested so, I did submit your opinions.)
Our letter was rejected before Xmas, stating that as there was no legislation on the issue before parliament, the letter would not be considered. Now what?
EXIT NZ had a meeting on March 4th with Georgina Beyer MP to discuss reopening the letter. With the deadline of my trial approaching, a parliamentary focus is needed for the awareness and support that would be generated.
Our discussion centred around a way forward, through the quagmire of emotional rhetoric that exists on both sides of the Voluntary Euthanasia debate. EXIT New Zealand Inc's mission statement is "Committed to supporting New Zealanders' freedom of choice in end-of-life decisions via Voluntary Euthanasia." Our goal is the establishment of the best possible environment for end-of-life decisions in New Zealand.
We see the way forward as a 5 step process:
1: P … arliamentary A … cknowledgement.
The establishment of a Government funded research committee to investigate thoroughly the law, practice and policy regarding end-of-life decisions in New Zealand.
(This was the request of the Open Letter to Select Committee)
2: R ... esearch.
a) Thorough survey of New Zealanders' experiences, opinions and recommendations regarding end-of-life decisions and associated services.
b) Research of current International Legislation on Voluntary Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide.
3: L ... egislation.
a) Formulation of Voluntary Euthanasia and/or Physician Assisted Suicide Legislation according to the recommendations of the research committee with ongoing review.
b) Improvements in services within, and full Government funding to, Palliative Care facilities as recommended by the research committee with ongoing review.
4: E … ducation.
A thorough public education programme on the proposed legislation and improvements to Palliative Care Services.
5: R … eferendum.
A binding referendum on the proposed legislation.
While all this was happening, something quite interesting unfolded. I was watching TV and saw a series of advertisements placed by Victoria University on thought provoking issues such Genetic Engineering, VE etc.
The ad on Mercy Killing vs State Sanctioned Killing caught my attention and I phoned the University to ask whether they would allow me to speak to their students.
Before I knew it, my inquiry had evolved into an offer from the University for a debate, which then evolved rapidly into a series of University Debates.
(That'll teach me!)
Dr Philip Nitschke of EXIT (Australia) was scheduled to arrive in New Zealand in March to support me at my trial, so it seemed logical for him to be the second team member.
The debates would be titled "The Benefits of Voluntary Euthanasia".
I would debate the benefits to the individual, Philip would debate the benefits for the medical profession and our third team member would debate the benefits to society.
The University Debating Teams would take the negative. The hunt was on for a third team member. Again, thanks to the hard work of some EXIT NZ members, the following itinerary came together.
- Monday March 8th Victoria University, Wellington Debate 12 - 1pm Presentation by Dr Nitschke and Lesley Martin, including discussion from the floor 1-2pm. Third team member Dr Judith Aitken.
- Tuesday March 9th Canterbury University , Christchurch 12- 2pm presentation by Dr Nitschke and Lesley Martin., including discussion from the floor.
(University debating team unavailable) - Thursday March 11th Waikato University, Hamilton, Debate12.30-1.30pm Presentation by Dr Nitschke and Lesley Martin , including discussion from the floor 1.30-2.30pm. Third team member Dr Brian Edwards.
- Friday March 12th Auckland University. Debate 2-3pm Presentation by Dr Nitschke and Lesley Martin, including discussion from the floor 3-4pm. Third team member Dr Brian Edwards.
All inquiries should be made to the Universities. Free admission. Open to the Public. All welcome.
While he's in New Zealand, Dr Nitschke will also be conducting workshops on end-of-life environments. Bookings are essential and interested people should contact Lesley Martin on 027 410 2620. These are scheduled around the Debate Itinerary.
Meanwhile, a documentary crew is following me around and the theatre version of my book "To Die Like A Dog" is being rehearsed, ready to go on stage immediately after a conclusive verdict.
With all that happening, I could almost be forgiven for putting the trial to the back of my mind. But I can't. As each day passes and it draws closer, I'm having to scrape together more and more resolve. Sleeping tablets help break the cycle of waking between 2 and 4am. My personal preparation is on track, albeit a rocky path and the rest is in the lap of the Gods (otherwise known as lawyers in this instance!) I believe. Not only in myself, but in the ability of New Zealanders to take a deep breath, steel themselves, and speak up for themselves. I believe the Hospice movement and EXIT NZ can work together as our mutual starting point is compassion.
This is not just my trial 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.
This is not just my trial. It's Ours.
Call 0900 52525. To show your support for Step One of the 5 Step Process Forward. Messages can be left. Calls cost $1 per minute. Please check with the bill-payer first.
My every effort of the past 5 years, every sacrifice, every tear, every knock-back, every insult, every dollar spent, every sleepless night, has been to let you have your say. Please don't waste it.