Story: Death and dying

Page 6. Euthanasia

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What is euthanasia?

The origin of this word is the Greek eu thanaos meaning ‘good death’ or to die well without pain. Euthanasia is the act of deliberately ending the life of another person by non-violent means. Involuntary euthanasia is when the person dying has not requested to be euthanased. Voluntary euthanasia is when a person assists someone who has requested help to die.

Euthanasia, including voluntary euthanasia, is illegal in New Zealand. However, there have been attempts to change the law; the most recent was the Death with Dignity Bill initiated by Peter Brown, deputy leader of New Zealand First, in 2003. It was defeated by two votes.

Arguments for euthanasia

Those in favour of voluntary euthanasia argue for the right of individuals to die with dignity and argue that the person concerned is best able to assess their quality of life and make decisions about whether they want to go on living.

Arguments against euthanasia

Objections to euthanasia are that it devalues life and undermines human dignity. Some believe that it also breaks religious laws. The New Zealand Medical Association considers that voluntary euthanasia is illegal and unethical, but supports patients' right to pain relief. It argues that the proper provision of such relief, even when it may hasten the death of the patient, is not unethical.

Pro-euthanasia organisations

The Voluntary Euthanasia Society of New Zealand (VES) advocates for voluntary euthanasia and pro-euthanasia campaigners such as Australian Philip Nitschke have made frequent visits to New Zealand to talk to VES members.

Controversial cases

There have been highly publicised New Zealand prosecutions related to euthanasia, including the trial of Lesley Martin, who was convicted in 2004 of the attempted murder of her terminally ill mother, Joy Martin, in 1999. She spent seven months in prison. Charges of murder and attempted murder were laid after she published a book about giving her mother an overdose of morphine and smothering her.

How to cite this page:

Ruth McManus and Rosemary Du Plessis, 'Death and dying - Euthanasia', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 March 2018)

Story by Ruth McManus and Rosemary Du Plessis, published 5 May 2011