Saturday, 18 February 2012

Man who inherits after assisting friend's suicide gets six months

One of the strongest arguments against legalising assisted suicide is that vulnerable people might feel pressure to end their lives so as not to be a burden to others.

Another strong argument is that those who might stand to gain from their deaths, financially or otherwise, could encourage or assist them to kill themselves or simply not stand in their way.

I was most interested therefore to read this story from Australia reported by Michael Cook on Bioedge this morning.

We are not given many details, and the man convicted would doubtless argue that he was 'wholly motivated by compassion', but it seems the judge thought otherwise.

The fact that the notorious Philip Nitschke thought the sentence 'harsh' was perhaps not unpredictable.

Unlike in Australia, assisting or encouraging a suicide in Britain carries only a discretionary sentence up to fourteen years and there have been no prosecutions resulting from the last 40 cases referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

Perhaps we in Britain should be being a little more suspicious.

Queensland man jailed over assisted suicide

A Queensland man has become the first to be sentenced to a full-time jail term for assisting a suicide. Merin Nielson, 50, received a six-month sentence for supplying an 76-year-old friend, Frank Ward, with the lethal drug Nembutal in 2009.

Ward had various ailments and was distressed by a decade of looking after his late wife, but was not seriously ill. In 2007, after a minor stroke, he made Nielson, a former school teacher who is studying for a PhD in philosophy, a beneficiary of his will and gave him power of attorney. Nielson appears to have put him in touch with the suicide group Exit International, headed by activist Dr Philip Nitschke.

Finally Ward gave his friend $7,000 to buy the banned drug in Mexico. After Nielson returned, Ward was found dead in his apartment with a suicide note beside him.

Dr Nitschke said the sentence was harsh (although the maximum sentence is life imprisonment). 'The fact remains we are looking at people who are not violent criminals, they are acting out of compassion and love, meeting the full force of the law here, which is simply showing its inflexibility when it comes to this issue,' he said.


  1. I'm confused - did he get life or 6 months?

  2. He actually got six months, although the maximum sentence is apparently life. Thank you. I've amended the inaccurate headline. Mea culpa.


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