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SocietyNovember 13, 2019

A collection of voices on the End of Life Choice bill

(Photo: Getty Images)
(Photo: Getty Images)

A law change that would allow assisted dying in certain select cases is coming up to a final reading in parliament tonight. Here are some of the many views on the matter we’ve published.

As the End of Life Choice bill has made its way through parliament, it has become clear that the issue of euthanasia is one of the most complex our politicians have had to grapple with in recent memory. Over the course of that, we’ve tried to reflect that complexity in our coverage.

Ahead of the final reading of the bill in parliament tonight, here is a collection of standalone pieces we have run on the issue, from a range of different perspectives. We have sought to treat different views with respect throughout this process, and as a likely referendum approaches in 2020, we will continue to do so.

My wife Lecretia Seales battled to die with dignity. This assisted dying bill is what she fought for, by Matt Vickers.

I’d also encourage MPs to read my book, Lecretia’s Choice, which sets out the arguments for and against assisted dying within the context of Lecretia’s case. Often, it is personal experiences that form one’s views on assisted dying, and a large amount of support for assisted dying comes from those who have seen a loved one suffer needlessly before death. Lecretia’s story provides one example of many such cases where access to assisted dying can provide comfort and control to individuals in their final days. If MPs take the time to put themselves in her shoes, it’s my hope that their consciences will see their way to making assisted dying legal in New Zealand.

Matt Vickers and his wife Lecretia Seales. Photo: supplied

Assisted dying devalues the disabled, by Dr John Fox.

If we were an organisation representing, say, 25 year old rugby players, we would not have to make the case that their suicide would leave society poorer. Their death would be seen as a waste, a tragedy that should be prevented, no matter what. Because we are disabled people with incurable conditions, we now have to make that case. Why?

Being sick doesn’t make your life worth less. Suicide is not medical care. And people don’t make life and death decisions by themselves. Those choices are made in a context – the same contexts we would recognise in youth or elder suicide.

Why we should be sceptical of David Seymour’s euthanasia bill, by Alex Penk.

That kind of reasoning shouldn’t be a surprise. Seymour often tries to dismiss people raising concerns about the Bill by claiming we’re trying to impose our morality on others. This is ironic as the Bill attempts to impose ACT’s neoliberal ideology on us all – an unrealistic theory that elevates free choice at the expense of solidarity, where autonomous individuals make independent decisions that have no wider social consequences. In the real world, families can be complicated, people can be vulnerable and subject to pressure, and law changes work themselves out in a complex web of social relationships where consequences are often unforeseen and unintended.

End of Life Choice bill sponsor David Seymour speaking to reporters at parliament (Getty Images)

On euthanasia, National is out of step with its own voters, by Graham Adams.

National Party strategists must wonder what they have done wrong in an earlier life to deserve photos of a posse of their MPs splashed across the news media under headings such as: “Euthanasia critics look to drag out battle in Parliament.”

That banner could easily have read: “National MPs intend to filibuster a very popular bill that even their voters support.”

Barry denied that the 120 amendments they will lodge constitute filibustering. In fact, she doubled down, telling journalists: “I would imagine it could quite easily go beyond that [120] because you can make amendments on amendments.”

National MP Maggie Barry December 2018. (Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King)

In an ideal world, euthanasia would make sense. We don’t live in an ideal world, by Jannah Dennison.

Examples of problems abound. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities stated in April 2019 that she was ‘extremely concerned’ at the impact of the Canadian euthanasia legislation on disabled people eligible for assisted dying, some of whom are being pressured to consider euthanasia.

Take the case of Canadian Roger Foley. Terminally ill, and with associated disabilities, he released recordings of staff offering him euthanasia whilst considering the high cost of his care. Similarly, the mother of severely disabled Canadian Candice Lewis has recounted a doctor’s recommendation of assisted suicide when Candice was ‘dying’ (she did not die, as it turns out), and the accusation that the mother was ‘selfish’ for not pursuing it.

Lecretia, law and life: Geoffrey Palmer on how the government can address assisted dying, by Sir Geoffrey Palmer.

In simple terms the issues can be put this way: “It is my life, no-one else’s. I am free to end it when I am dying and the pain and suffering has become so intense that in accord with my own free will I want to end it all. Where I am suffering from a terminal illness, I am mentally competent and I fear a painful and undignified end I should be able to receive a prescription that enables me to exit gracefully so relieving my acute anxiety about the coming ordeal?” This makes clear the point of view Lecretia had. She was not wanting to commit suicide in the sense that most people who accomplish it do. She wanted to avoid what she regarded as a worse fate.

I never thought I would support this bill. But, then, there’s Mum, by Willie Jackson.

Tariana Turia is someone close to me. Others like her have lobbied me. We had a message tonight from one of the whanaunga saying: “Here you are, won over by the white, liberal vote in parliament”. That is what Māori members face sometimes, and I understand it, because I understand the background, the upbringing, the history, and the mistrust in terms of the house system, and the way that some of our people have been treated. Who will ever forget Rau Williams in 1997? Who will ever forget the health support that he was denied? Our people, whether they’re Māori, working class, poor, disabled, don’t trust the system.

They don’t trust the system. I’ve heard so much kōrero tonight that I respect from both sides – from both sides. But my experience tells me that our people are nervous; our people are scared. Despite all the great work done by the select committee – and I acknowledge you all – there is still a lot of distrust out there. That comes through experience and it comes through history. So I always thought I’d vote against this bill.

Keep going!