Australian suicide helper is sentenced to jail

An Australian woman who helped her Alzheimer's victim partner commit suicide was sentenced to jail today.

An Australian woman who helped her Alzheimer's victim partner commit suicide was sentenced to jail today.

Shirley Justins, who had faced a possible life term, was given 22 months “periodic detention” which means she will serve the sentence a few days at a time over several years.

Justins, aged 60, was found guilty in June of the manslaughter of Graeme Wylie, who died of a barbiturate overdose aged 71 at their home in 2006. Justins handed Mr Wylie a lethal mixture, which he drank himself.

Mr Wylie was rejected for a legally assisted suicide in Switzerland four months before his death because it was unclear whether he had the cognitive ability to decide to die.

It is legal in Switzerland for foreigners to travel to the country to commit assisted suicide, and dozens do so each year with the help of Swiss organisations such as Dignitas – the group whose help Mr Wylie had sought.

Justins, who had lived with Wylie for 18 years, argued in her trial in Australia that Wylie had been desperate to die before his dementia worsened and asked Justins to help him end his life.

In the sentencing hearing today, Justice Roderick Howie said that while Justins believed she was doing what Wylie wanted, she had misled people and was part of a “criminal enterprise” with a family friend who bought the barbiturate in Mexico.

Judge Howie called Justins “selfish and cruel” for not allowing Wylie’s daughters to say goodbye to him.

“She did deceive our family, she did deceive dad,” said Mr Wylie’s daughter, Tania Shakespeare, after the sentencing. “I’m heartbroken that I wasn’t able to say goodbye to my father.”

Euthanasia is illegal in Australia, though the Outback region of the Northern Territory passed a law regulating the practice in 1995. The Rights of the Terminally Ill Act provided for a terminally ill patient to ask a doctor to help the patient end his or her life.

Under the law, Dr Philip Nitschke, a pro-euthanasia campaigner nicknamed “Dr Death” by the Australian media, helped four people self-inject a deadly dose of barbiturates using a computer and other items dubbed a “suicide machine.”

But the law was hugely controversial and Australia’s federal parliament, which maintains some powers over the Northern Territory, overturned it in 1997.

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