A man with motor neurone disease plans to starve himself to death rather than wait to die.

Thirty-nine-year-old Andrew Morris of Hamilton has limited movement and can barely speak. He has gone public with his decision because he wants law changes to allow voluntary euthanasia.

"As soon as I was diagnosed I was a walking dead man. I accepted it immediately," the former accountant said.

"There is no sense in putting everyone through more suffering. Once quality is gone I don't see any point in longevity."

Mr Morris has progressive bulbar palsy, a form of motor neurone disease, which involves degeneration of the nerves within the central nervous system. Eventually the muscles weaken and waste away.

In the later stages of the disease the person cannot speak, swallow or move but the senses and the ability to think are generally retained.

The first symptoms of slurred speech and fatigue began for Mr Morris in 2002 and he was diagnosed in May 2003. Now, the once active sportsman and surfer is confined to a recliner chair in the house where he boards with his primary caregiver Phillipa Grace.

He can still smoke and feed himself - a liquid food supplement - but can no longer shower himself, scratch an itch or wipe his bottom.

At 1.74m (5 foot 9 inches) tall, he once weighed close to 80kg; now he's more like 55kg.

A member of the pro-euthanasia lobby group Exit New Zealand, he did not want to wait for his condition to progress "through to its natural end, whereby I will be effectively unable to move at all".

He wanted his loved ones there when he died and believed starvation was the only option under the law.

He had started reducing the amount of food and liquid he consumed as his body deteriorated and would eventually stop food and liquid completely.

Mr Morris praised the care he had received from his GP and hospice, but said he did not want to be kept alive artificially. All he wanted was medication to keep him comfortable and, ideally, to die at home.

Ms Grace, a long-time friend, has learned to lip read and can understand the eye gestures and shortened speech Mr Morris now uses.

Speaking to the Herald with her help, Mr Morris said his beliefs in a person's soul and that death was a part of life, meant he had no trouble accepting his condition. He was happy and still got enjoyment out of reading the newspaper, watching the cricket on television, smoking his 15 cigarettes a day and seeing family and friends.

But when he inevitably lost the use of his arms he would no longer be able to do many of those things. Five years ago Mr Morris watched his father die from cancer. He offered to help him die but his father refused as it is not legal to assist a person's death.

In order to avoid putting anyone else in that situation, Mr Morris said he planned to stop eating while he could still feed himself. That meant he had to begin the process months before he would if voluntary euthanasia was an option.

Voluntary euthanasia campaigner Lesley Martin, who was released from prison in December after serving half of a 15-month jail term for attempting to murder her ill mother, hoped his story would raise awareness of the need to change legislation to give terminally ill people the right to die. In 2003, the Death with Dignity Bill was rejected by MPs, 60 votes to 57.

Motor Neurone Disease Association executive officer Sue Leader said in a statement that the association was saddened to hear of Mr Morris's decision. It supported the right of people with the disease to "take any decision or action that is lawful". 

Killer disease

* About 100 New Zealanders are diagnosed with the incurable motor neurone disease each year.

* People can live anywhere between 6 months and 20 years with the disease but the average life expectancy from diagnosis is 2 to 4 years.

* Well-known people with the disease include Stephen Hawking, author of A Brief History of Time and former Hawke's Bay, Hurricanes and Blues back Jarrod Cunningham.