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Why is a Right-to-Life campaigner leading the inquiry in the right to assisted death?

Opinion: The forthcoming select committee review into assisted dying should represent a welcome opportunity for reasoned debate on an important issue. It’s unfortunate then, says Gareth Morgan, that the committee’s chair has already made up his mind.

After the much publicised struggle and death of Lecretia Seales, former MP Maryan Street presented a petition to Parliament on assisted dying, which has led to a select committee investigation. The only problem is that the man leading the whole process has already made up his mind.

Simon O’Connor is MP for Tamaki and chair of the Health Select Committee, which is tasked with leading the investigation. Unfortunately he’s also a devout Catholic and ‘right to life’ campaigner, and has stated his views in Parliament in no uncertain terms:

“I unambiguously oppose euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide in this country. There is no such thing as a right to die. There is a right to life.”

That is a pretty crystal clear statement of his position – the man doesn’t have an open mind, he is unfit for purpose here. O’Connor has no problem boldly stating his personal bias. When giving an example of a submission he says:

“A submission can be as simple as a statement saying, ‘I do not support euthanasia or suicide in any form’.”

But this goes far deeper than subtle hints. Incredibly, O’Connor has actively campaigned to encourage submissions in opposition to the petition. He has led meetings that not only inform people about the arguments against assisted dying, but even give people instructions on how to make a submission against the petition.

He spoke at the AGM of the Right to Life New Zealand Inc. This fundamentalist Catholic group opposes abortion and even went as far as to blame the recent Colorado shootings on the people who support offering women the choice over abortions. To someone like me, he is a nutter. What an earth are National doing having a Select Committee headed by this sort of bigot?

O’Connor has defended his position as chair of the inquiry, stating that:

“I would like to stress that being an impartial chair does not necessitate putting aside one’s own views. I think any inquiry is bound to be of a better standard when its members have a keen interest in the subject.”

To a certain degree he is right – everyone involved in this process will already have a view. However, it is different when that view is an absolute position based on faith, rather than a malleable one reached with reason. This man is not persuadable with the evidence. That alone should necessitate him standing aside for this inquiry, particularly given that he is a student of ethics. To have the Chair of our Health Select Committee not open to evidence and reasoning is a travesty of natural justice, indefensible anywhere apart from a theological state like Iran or Saudi Arabia.

There may be clear and logical arguments against assisted dying – although I’ve never seen them – and the Morgan Foundation has researched the issue without finding any evidence to back up the claims of the ‘right to life’ campaigners. The Select Committee is morally bound to allow evidence to come forward, not decide beforehand that religiosity dictates assisted dying is a no-no. 

The only possible explanation of the ‘right to life’ brigade’s position is some moral judgement based on faith or similar hocus-pocus. Do we really want our society governed by decisions of such nebulous nature? Personally I find that offensive.

In our view, as long as there is proper regulation in place, people should have the right to choose how their life ends. This principle actually applies across the board; our society generally starts from the assumption that people have a right to choose, unless there is good evidence to remove that choice. Opposing a right to choose, particularly when the reasoning is based on a matter of faith, is simply not appropriate in a modern secular society.

The only right thing to do is for Simon O’Connor to step aside from chairing the select committee process. I’m gobsmacked that he has the gall to persist – and that National are so insensitive to the public’s rights as to allow such prejudice to prevail over a Select Committee.

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