Police checkpoint strategy to gather details of euthanasia supporters defies belief

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Acting Superintendent Paul Basham, during his press conference, to outline the reasons for their euthanasia checkpoint. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Acting Superintendent Paul Basham, during his press conference, to outline the reasons for their euthanasia checkpoint. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Whatever possessed the police to set up a checkpoint in Lower Hutt targeting elderly people at a pro-euthanasia meeting defies belief.

The tactic of gathering names and addresses of individuals after they left an Exit International meeting by setting up a drink-drive checkpoint would seem to stray some distance from the powers granted to police under the Land Transport Act.

Officers acted on the information they collected. An elderly Nelson woman who attended the meeting has described how two plainclothes officer produced a search warrant when they called at her home and took away a helium balloon inflation kit. A Wellington woman says she too had a visit from police, who gave her a letter a list of support numbers.

Police say they acted in good faith, and that the checkpoint was part of an investigation into what they have called a suspected assisted suicide after a person who died was found to have a controlled drug in their system.

By referring the matter to the Independent Police Complaints Authority, the police have limited their public comment on their issue, and given Police Minister Judith Collins the opportunity to stay out of the debate.

This has not stopped others criticising the checkpoint strategy, which may yet come back to haunt the police, regardless of the authority's decision.

University law professor Mark Henaghan suggests the officers acted unlawfully when they stopped the handful of people after the October 2 meeting. He points that checkpoints are designed for blood alcohol tests and road safety and not as fishing devices which infringe New Zealanders' freedom of assembly.

Euthanasia is illegal in New Zealand, but it is also an issue of broad public interest. A significant number of New Zealanders support euthanasia for those who qualify and request it.

Many have arrived at that position after caring for family members who had suffered protracted and painful deaths and want their own days to end peacefully and without suffering.


Parliament's health select committee is hearing a petition calling for medically assisted dying for terminal illness and unbearable suffering. The issue has drawn more than 20,000 written submissions, and 1800 people want to speak to it. Testimony is being laid before the committee on both sides of this profound issue.

New Zealand had a powerful illustration last year of the deep conviction many hold on euthanasia when Lecretia Seales asked the High Court to clarify whether it would be an offence under the Crimes Act for her doctor to help her die, and whether a ban on assisted dying contravened her human rights.

The brave Wellington lawyer died just hours after learning her High Court fight had failed, with the judge ruling that Parliament was the place to determine the issues. MPs are now doing just that through the select committee mechanism.

It should run its course without police being seen to crackdown on those who happen to believe in euthanasia.

The New Zealand police force can rightly claim to enjoy a high level of public respect. But that esteem risks being eroded with actions that undermine their credibility. Drivers might wonder they next time they are stopped whether they too could expect a knock on the door.

A senior officer described the actions as police "thinking on their feet." They might reflect it would have been wise to pause before acting.

- NZ Herald

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