After what must have been months of keen detective work, police have uncovered a coven in Maungaraki, the Lower Hutt suburb where I once attended natural childbirth classes with pioneer midwives. There are similarities.

The midwives suggested we have our partners rub our perineums with wheat germ oil in preparation for birth. I had an emergency caesarean soon after, probably because we tried that once and laughed. Toe of bat might have been a better bet.

A classmate who gave birth earlier than the rest of us gave the midwives a recording of her child's birth to play to us. There is music, and there is noise music. This was something else. You could only stare at the floor, if you could see it, what with your huge belly, and think of pretty things.

How solemn we were, facing the ordeal of producing new life, believing all the alternative literature - from California - on how doctors were bad and midwives were better, how giving birth like dolphins was wonderful, and how we shouldn't have pain killers in labour because it would hurt our babies. Eating the placenta afterwards, like cats, was one helpful recycling suggestion. Recipes provided.


Equally solemn, I guess, were the elderly women who gathered in Maungaraki to hear evil warlock Philip Nitschke, the Exit International director who peddles the means to end your own life when you've had enough of living. Some call this euthanasia. I call it suicide.

We were scared. Childbirth is still a hazardous experience, and the older women would have been scared, too, of what form their death would take, when, and whether it would hurt or be undignified. If only life's inevitable experiences could be controlled, both groups were thinking, they would be less scary. But birth and death are both inevitable, and both are scary. There's no getting away from it.

In an intriguing twist the women who attended the meeting were stopped by a police checkpoint when they drove away, made to show their names and addresses, and show their driver's licences. One woman says she was later asked if she had any Nembutal on her premises. Nembutal is the illegal poison old people are encouraged by Nitschke and his followers to have on hand in case they get the urge to help themselves to death.

Despite the shocked reaction of some euthanasia advocates, I can't see the difference between an old person hoarding Nembutal and a young person hoarding methamphetamine. If it's illegal, it's illegal, and encouraging fear by endorsing suicide is a nasty way of helping people.

Was the law broken by police in this bumbling affair? Was the checkpoint "an appalling thing to do", as one of the women said? Not enough to get excited about. But the cult of elder suicide seems to be gaining traction in this country, which ironically enough has the highest youth suicide rate in the world.

I can't blame older people for getting fed up with deteriorating bodies and the lack of independence that follows. I get that they become lonely as their friends die, and I'm sure their adult children are often not very kind.

Their situation is worse than it once was because they have to use any funds they've squirrelled away to pay for surgery the health system no longer provides. If they have to rely on a pension they will live like paupers - the very situation the old-age pension was designed to prevent in the late 19th century. And they are open to abuse by family and unqualified "helpers" paid by the state to run a wet rag round the sink and do a quick vacuum clean.

The option is granny farms, the nation's burgeoning industry, where with any luck old people swiftly die of boredom, the state paying their keep by stripping the value out of their assets, like those ants that milk aphids for honeydew. We should all buy shares in these businesses, what with a burgeoning elderly population, resented for owning their own homes when young people can't afford to.

Retirement Commissioner Diana Maxwell wants the age of entitlement to a pension raised to 67. If only she could force employers to keep them on. If only older people were all as fit and healthy as they are in advertisements for Viagra and incontinence pads, but no such luck in the real world.

"Cat snip and chip programme may cut out the poor and elderly," said one newspaper headline last week, a sure sign of the plight of the old. The suicide option is so much cheaper all round.

Where to get help:

• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)

• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)

• Youth services: (06) 3555 906 (Palmerston North and Levin)

• Youthline: 0800 376 633

• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)

• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)

• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)

• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

• Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (available 24/7)

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.