Legalising euthanasia has won huge support from readers of the nzherald.co.nz, reflecting the earlier findings of scientific public opinion polls.

By last night, 82 per cent of nzherald.co.nz poll respondents said euthanasia should be legalised.

The poll was started after 61-year-old Auckland GP Dr John Pollock, who has just months to live after being diagnosed with metastatic melanoma, spoke out in favour of voluntary euthanasia.

Dr Pollock, who retired from his North Shore medical practice after he was diagnosed with cancer in December, said the disease could kill him in a drawn-out and unpleasant way.

It was unfair that unlike in the handful of states that have legalised euthanasia, in New Zealand he would be subject to "cruel laws which force me to suffer to the end or kill myself".

More than 6000 readers responded to the Herald poll, which, although not a scientific survey, gives an indication of public views.

It found even greater support for euthanasia than shown in surveys by the research firm Colmar Brunton and Massey University in 2008.

The Massey survey found that 70 per cent supported a doctor being permitted by law to end a patient's life, at the patient's request, if the person had a painful, incurable disease.

The Colmar Brunton poll found 71 per cent of people wanted to have the right to choose medically assisted death if they had quality of life they considered totally unacceptable because of an illness or condition.

Many who emailed the Herald or wrote on the Herald's Facebook page yesterday supported Dr Pollock's stance, although one said any euthanasia law would have to protect patients, who might not want their lives ended, against being "'persuaded' by those that stand to inherit".

Another said she empathised with Dr Pollock. When her mother died of cancer, she was "gaunt, bones sticking out ... and was begging in the end for someone to help her go in peace. She looked like a prisoner of war victim".

But Aucklander Hone Willis wrote that although he previously supported euthanasia, he changed his mind after having a double lung transplant in 2006.

He said that because euthanasia involved active medical interference to cause death, it was "totally against everything medicine means".

Political debate on euthanasia has largely evaporated since then-New Zealand First MP Peter Brown's bill to set up a national referendum on the issue was narrowly defeated, 60-58, in 2003.

No MP currently has a euthanasia bill in the ballot for member's bills.

Labour's health spokeswoman, Ruth Dyson, who voted for Mr Brown's Death with Dignity Bill, said yesterday that she was not aware of any lobbying of MPs by pro-euthanasia groups.

Voluntary Euthanasia Society president Kevin Brennan said the climate was wrong for lobbying, but he would watch to see if it changed after Dr Pollock's stand.

He said achieving a law change would need the Medical Association to move from its current opposition to voluntary, assisted euthanasia, to a position of neutrality, like the British Medical Association had done.

But NZ association chairman Dr Peter Foley said the BMA had subsequently reverted to opposition.

He said there was "plenty of medical and nursing support" to help people to die with dignity and relatively pain-free. But Dr Pollock disputed this.

"Although we are much better now at offering end-of-life relief, we are far from perfect," he said. "We still have many patients who have miserable deaths despite our best efforts, despite the hospice's best efforts."

LEADING THE WAY

* Auckland-born scientist Sean Davison, who works in South Africa, admitted in a leaked, unpublished section of a memoir manuscript that he had given a lethal drink of morphine to his mother. She had terminal cancer and had repeatedly asked him to help her die.

* Lesley Martin was convicted and jailed for the attempted murder of her dying mother in 1999, after claiming in her book that she twice tried to assist her mother to die.