A terminally ill Wellington man who has a year to live says he will end his life before cancer does - and he wants to do so legally.

Joseph Claessen, from Upper Hutt, has an aggressive form of prostate cancer and is expected to die within 12 months.

"There is no doubt about it. I will kill myself if the law doesn't change by that time," he said.

"I don't think I will do it here at home. Mostly likely I will look for a nice spot in nature, have a nice cigar, have a whiskey, and then after that do it."


The 68 year-old appeared before a select committee at Parliament yesterday and pleaded for a law change.

Speaking to the committee, he said he wanted the right to choose when his pain and suffering became too great.

"And that's where I run into trouble here in New Zealand. We don't have any laws concerning medically-assisted dying.

"That means I'm on my own. And I mean literally on my own. I will have to take my own life."

The committee is investigating public attitudes to voluntary euthanasia in response to a petition by former Labour MP Maryan Street.

Street created the petition soon after the unsuccessful Supreme Court bid by Wellington lawyer Lecretia Seales to be allowed a medically-assisted death.

Claessen is originally from the Netherlands, where euthanasia is legal. A horticulturalist, he moved to New Zealand in 1988 because of concerns about nuclear fallout following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

Despite living here for nearly three decades, he decided against New Zealand citizenship in case he needed to go back to the Netherlands for a medically-assisted death.


That option would mean he spent his last weeks or months away from his wife, daughters and granddaughters in New Zealand.

"This is home for me. It is home now," he told the Herald at his home in Mangaroa.

"I am having a blast at the moment. I have a good life, I have a very supportive family. Why would I leave them?"

Under the existing law, he said he was likely to have a shorter life because he would kill himself while he was still physically capable.

"This inaction [by Government] will shorten my life. It will put a lot of stress, discomfort and trauma to my family."

"It is time New Zealand steps a little bit ahead, because they are running behind now."

Claessen's family supported his position.

"We're not going to talk him out of it," said his daughter, Anke.

She said the law placed her in a difficult position. The family wanted him to die comfortably, and not "run away somewhere" to kill himself. But they also did not want to "end up in jail".

Act Party leader David Seymour, who is campaigning for legalised euthanasia, said Claessen's case was far from isolated.

He pointed to a University of Auckland study of coronial records which indicated 8 per cent of elderly took their own lives.

"I want to live in a society where you can do what you like so long as you don't harm anyone else," Seymour said.

Opponents of an assisted dying regime in New Zealand have told the committee that it could be a "slippery slope", beginning with terminally ill adults but eventually expanding to non-terminal illness and to all age groups.

They also say that it could lead to vulnerable people dying against their will.

Claessen said he supported voluntary euthanasia for those with a terminal diagnosis, but he was unsure about extending it further.

He also said no country allowed people to be euthanised on a whim. In the Netherlands, patients had to get approval from two GPs and faced a "cooling-down" period.

Where to get help:

• In an emergency: call 111
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youthline: 0800 376 633, or text 234 (available 24/7) or talk@youthline.co.nz or live chat (between 7pm and 11pm) http://livechat.youthline.co.nz/mibew/chat?locale=en&style=youthline
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)