Police said on Tuesday they were probing the death of a 72-year-old woman in Sydney and her links to Australia's "Dr Death," a euthanasia advocate who carried out several mercy killings when assisted suicide was briefly legal.
Norma Hall, mother of Mount Everest climber Lincoln Hall, died in her south Sydney home on Saturday after a long battle against bone, lung and liver cancer.
She had been under the care of Dr Philip Nitschke, dubbed "Dr Death" by Australian euthanasia opponents for his similarities to Jack Kevorkian of the United States who helped more than 100 people commit suicide and is now jailed in Michigan.
Nitschke invented a computer-controlled machine that allowed terminally ill patients to administer a lethal cocktail of drugs when euthanasia was legal in the Northern Territory from 1996 to 1997.
"Detectives are investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of a 72-year-old woman last Saturday. A post mortem will be conducted," said a spokeswoman for New South Wales police. She confirmed the case involved Hall.
DR DEATH TO COOPERATE WITH POLICE
Nitschke told Reuters his lawyers had advised him not to comment. But he issued a statement confirming that Hall had asked him to travel to Sydney as she prepared to take her own life.
"She elected to end her life by refusing fluids. After several days she left a note saying that this process was too slow and voluntarily consumed all her prescribed analgesic drugs and died," he said in the statement.
"Throughout this period, my role was one of patient advocate, and I sought at all times to explain the options that were presented to her. I intend to cooperate with the police, and will readily give a statement if and when this becomes necessary."
Australia's Northern Territory became the first place in the world to legalise euthanasia when it passed a law in July 1996.
Following a furious debate in the Federal Parliament, the national government overturned the law in March 1997 after four terminally ill patients had used it to take their own lives.
Nitschke has since run mercy killing clinics around the country, and has been pushing for the Northern Territory law to be reintroduced. His pro-euthanasia campaign got a boost last year when the Netherlands voted to legalise assisted suicides.
The Hall case shot into the public spotlight following a television report on Monday night.
Pro-life campaigners lashed out at what they considered a media stunt orchestrated by Nitschke to get the issue back on the public agenda.
"These stunts will be pushed from time to time," said Margaret Tighe, chairwoman of Right to Life Australia. "She (Hall) was a voluntary sacrificial lamb and it's high time Nitschke was stopped."