The Australian doctor known as Dr Death is encouraging people to support a Labour MP's bill that would legalise euthanasia.

Philip Nitschke gave a public speech in Wellington today, followed by a private workshop for members of his Exit group on how to use a new Nitrogen system as a method of suicide.

More than 30, mostly middle-aged and elderly, people attended the speech at Wellington Public Library this afternoon.

Dr Nitschke said it was a crime in New Zealand to help or encourage someone to take their life, but it was not a crime to commit suicide.


Helping someone to end their life could lead to a maximum of 14 years imprisonment, he said.

"That's a very serious penalty for helping someone do something that's lawful."

It was a "savage penalty," Dr Nitschke said.

"The law in its current form discriminates against someone when they're sickest. If you become so sick that you're desperate for a peaceful death, so sick in fact that you can't carry out the steps yourself because you're so disabled by your illness that you have to ask someone to help you, that person runs serious legal risks."

The most common method of suicide for elderly people in New Zealand and Australia was by hanging, he said.

"That is a grim and horrible death."

Politicians needed to have the courage to change the law, Dr Nitschke said.

Labour MP Maryan Street's End of Life Choice Bill was yet to be debated in Parliament, but if it was pulled from the ballot box, it needed to be supported, he said.

The bill proposes that euthanasia should be a choice for people with a terminal illness, as well as those suffering an irreversible chronic physical or mental condition.

"(It is) I think one of the best pieces of law drafted on this issue."

People with chronic conditions were not necessarily terminal, but they should still be given the option to choose to die, Dr Nitschke said.

"Let's hope this law passes. It's the most progressive in the world."

Wellington City Council spokesman Richard MacLean said the council was not aware the meeting was being held in the library.

"(But) all sorts of organisations use the room for meetings where all sorts of contentious issues are debated, so as far as we're concerned a debate about euthanasia is a legitimate use of the room."

He said the council had not received any complaints about the meeting being held in a public building.

"But if it does become a massive controversy and people start objecting, then we'll take a closer look at it."

Where euthanasia is legal:
* Netherlands;
* Belgium;
* Luxembourg;
* Switzerland; and
* Montana, Oregon, and Washington in the United States.