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Loving man helped wife die, court told

Loving man helped wife die, court told

From: The Age, Melbourne, AU

By Peter Gregory, Chief Court Reporter, April 24 2003

On October 19 last year, the day after her only son’s birthday, Margaret Maxwell prepared to die.

She weighed only 40 kilograms. She coughed constantly, vomited and could not lie down in bed. She had tried and failed in a nine-year crusade of alternative therapies against her breast cancer.

Ms Maxwell, according to material before the Supreme Court, had also “called in” a promise from her husband, Alexander.

He had stopped her before from ending her life, but when he returned home from a trip to find nutrients she could digest, she told him she had had enough.

Yesterday, Alexander Gamble Maxwell, 55, pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting his wife’s suicide.

Maxwell sat in the dock with his hands covering his face as prosecutor Geoff Horgan, SC, described Ms Maxwell’s death.

Mr Horgan said Maxwell told police he crushed sleeping tablets and other medication, and gave them to his wife with water.

When she was unconscious, he placed a plastic bag over her head and slowly piped gas into the bag. The couple, of Kew, were at their caravan at Phillip Island.

Mr Horgan said a favourite piece of music, from a classical compilation, was playing. Defence counsel Chris Dane, QC, said the couple had read euthanasia literature and appeared to have followed it precisely.

Mr Dane said Maxwell had dissuaded his wife from earlier trying to starve herself to death, but had responded to her wishes out of intense love. He said Margaret Maxwell was frail physically, but powerful mentally. “This death was in fact planned by (Ms Maxwell) for several months, but by the prisoner for only a short period of time,” he told Justice John Coldrey.

Later, he added: “The power of genuine love when aroused by the circumstances of extreme pain and suffering may sometimes blind a person to the ultimate sanctity of life.

“That is what has happened here. He has lost sight of (that) sanctity.”

Witnesses who gave statements to police described Ms Maxwell as a private and powerful person who rigorously pursued a treatment regime.

Mr Dane said Maxwell was known as genuine and moral. He loved his wife and was her carer. Mr Dane asked Justice Coldrey not to send Maxwell to jail.

The maximum sentence for aiding and abetting a suicide was five years’ imprisonment, but Maxwell had confessed, had shown remorse and had no previous convictions, he said.

Justice Coldrey said the case was tragic. He continued bail for Maxwell, pending sentencing on a date to be fixed.