Man begs court: allow me to starve

Nicolas Perpitch | August 08, 2009

Article from:  The Australian

PERTH quadriplegic Christian Rossiter will continue searching for ways to travel to Switzerland to die if his request to starve to death is rejected by a court.

The case could be decided within a week after West Australian Chief Justice Wayne Martin yesterday fast-tracked a hearing on the matter to next Friday.

Mr Rossiter, 49, is a spastic quadriplegic who requires full-time care. He is fed nutrients and hydrated through a tube.

A former rock climber and bushwalker, he sustained severe spinal injuries after being hit by a car in 2004 while riding a bicycle. He has described his life as a living hell and wants his carers to stop feeding him so he can die.

His first choice had been to fly to a euthanasia clinic in Switzerland but that holds a legal risk that anyone who helped him could be charged with assisting a suicide.

Mr Rossiter's carer, Brightwater Care Group, has asked the WA Supreme Court for a declaration that it can continue feeding him when he has expressly requested that it stop.

The case is being closely watched by the legal fraternity for the potential precedent it could set over whether someone should be force-fed, and the implications for suicide.

In court yesterday, Mr Rossiter's lawyer, John Hammond, requested a bedside hearing for his client to give evidence.

Mr Hammond said Mr Rossiter's enormous suffering would otherwise be "unwittingly sanitised" if his evidence were presented in a statement.

"Despite his body failing dramatically, he is a very intelligent man," he said.

Chief Justice Martin said the only factual issues that may arise were mental incapacity and whether Mr Rossiter had been fully informed of the course of action he wanted to take and its consequences.

Mr Hammond told the court Mr Rossiter was being advised of the consequences, while Brightwater lawyer Jeremy Allanson SC said he did not intend to present evidence on mental incapacity.

Asked by Chief Justice Martin whether he would seek a cross-order preventing Mr Rossiter being fed if Brightwater's application were upheld, Mr Hammond said that was likely.

Outside the court, Mr Hammond said Mr Rossiter was clear in his wishes.

"That he no longer be fed, that he be allowed to die in peace," he said.

"He is still contemplating if anyone will take him to Switzerland to be euthanased immediately. He no longer wants to live."

On Thursday, Mr Rossiter said he was a prisoner in his own body.

"My choice is to die. I'm a rock climber so I have no fear of death, just pain. I only fear pain, severe pain," he said.

Western Australia's Right To Life Association has argued Brightwater would be given the equivalent of an exemption from a murder charge if it were prevented from feeding Mr Rossiter.

Euthanasia advocate Philip Nitschke said starvation would be "state-sanctioned torture" and repeated his call to legalise euthanasia.

"It is illegal in Australia to provide the appropriate drugs that would give Chris a peaceful and humane death," he said.

The Hong Kong-based Health and Lifestyle Channel wants to set up a 24-hour webcam on Mr Rossiter if his feeding is stopped.

The channel's chairman and founder, Robert Chua, said it would be part of a debate on euthanasia, which Dr Nitschke is flying to Hong Kong to participate in. Mr Chua said he had not spoken to Mr Rossiter about the idea.