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Examples of letters to the Editor

  • Northland Age, 9 January 2020

    I appreciate anybody making a stand and doing battle for their views and beliefs regarding euthanasia/ physician assisted dying (PAD) AND I expect a mature debate based on facts, free of scaremongering and personal attacks: play the ball not the man!

    Here are some of the facts:

          • University of Victoria research fellow Jessica Young led a study looking at the polling of attitudes towards euthanasia over the past two decades and says sentiment has been consistently in favour over that time
          •  Since 2002, support in every poll about assisted dying has hovered between 63 per cent and 82% , averaging out to about 68.3%  in favour
          • Opposition has averaged out to 14.9 per cent
          • Consistency amongst gender and age
          • Support across people backing all major political parties is reasonably high
      • (Jessica Young: The euthanasia debate: synthesising the evidence on NZers attitudes, published online: 24 October 2019).
          • In 2018, 668 people in NZ took their own lives (Annual report 2017/18, Office of the Chief Coroner of NZ).  “About 5-8% of all suicides here are people attempting to escape the worst of their medical conditions killing themselves in awful lonely and often violent ways.” (North and South magazine: April 2019)
          • In countries where assisted PAD. is legal only 1/3 of patients who get accepted for PAD find the need to take up that option, their fears have been removed, extending their lives. (Doctor M. Panko, Northern Advocate April 2019)
          • Palliative Care Australia (pg 30) shows in their 2018 Patient Outcome Report that a total of 6% of their patients suffer “severely” from pain and/or other symptoms in the terminal phase of their lives. “Other symptoms” are described as suffocating, choking on the involuntary movements of their tongue and throat or almost drowning in lung fluids.

      I conclude with a quote from James C. Nelson, retired Montana Supreme Court Judge: “ We should all be asking why some are so willing to condemn their fellow citizen to a long agonising, certain death from a life ending illness, when the patient only wishes to end her or his life and suffering in a painless and dignified manner, surrounded by those who support their loved one’s decision.”

      The End of Life Choice Act is only for the dying: www.referendum.govt.nz

      Alida Van der Velde, Waikanae

      Sunday Star Times, 8 December 2019

      Mary Appleby wonders how I came by the figure of fewer than 200 people annually being likely to die an assisted death in NZ. I used the following reasoning and data:

      The End of Life Choice Act is very similar in restrictiveness to the Oregon legislation, i.e. the person must be diagnosed with a terminal illness likely to end his/her life within 6 months plus meet all the other eligibility criteria that both Acts have in common. Therefore, the effect of the legislation is likely to be similar; both are OECD locations.

      We have similar populations: 4.3 million for Oregon in 2018 and 4.9 million for NZ in 2019. We have a similar number of deaths annually: 37,000 for Oregon in 2018 vs 33,000 for NZ. (Note: their death rate is slightly higher than ours).

      The 2018 Oregon report on assisted deaths shows that 249 people were given the medication to hasten their death and 168 actually took it.

      It doesn’t take Einstein to conclude that the number of assisted deaths in NZ is therefore likely to be fewer than 200.

      The worst coercion is forcing people through a prolonged death of unrelieved misery against their will.

      Ann David, Waikanae

      Southland Times, 11 December 2019

      Western Australia has just legalised voluntary assisted dying, although it will take another 18 months to come into effect. The main difference between our End of Life Choice Act and the WA law is that in Australia the doctor is permitted to openly discuss the end of life option with a dying person, along with all possible treatment options. In NZ only the patient may raise the subject. I suppose that should put to rest any notions that doctors would coerce patients to apply. Yes, this was an objection put forward by some opponents. In fact, the End of Life Choice Act requires repeated confirmation from the patient that they continue to want assistance to die, even right up to the very last moment, when they must be offered the choice to cancel the request, delay the date of administration of the life-ending medication (for up to six months), or go ahead. To suggest that people could go unwillingly to their assisted death is mere scaremongering. The government anticipated truth-distorters and has put out a summary of the End of Life Choice Act online at www.referendum.govt.nz.

      Dianne Cooper, Kapiti

      Whanganui Chronicle, 13 December 2019

      EOLC RESPECTS PATIENTS' LIFE CHOICES

      Recently, (Chron. 27 Nov.2019) John McMenamin, a well-regarded Whanganui GP, gave his opinion in opposition to the EOLC Act. I disagree. At the outset I want to acknowledge where we agree. His acknowledgment of religion as fundamental to his opposition is welcome. I also agree that trust is of basic importance in the work of doctors and patients---as it is in any complex human interaction.

      Where we disagree is about substance but also about method

      Dr. McMenamin's perspective on the EOLC appears to be its effects not on patients but on physicians. He cites "the New Zealand Medical Association as the largest group representing doctors as opposing euthanasia." But it should be noted that, the NZMA membership is at most 17% of the 18,000 New Zealand registered doctors

      Of fundamental flaw in McMemamin's argument is that his focus starts and ends with the perspective and interest of the doctor, his vulnerability to alleged harm, his potential alleged loss in trust and an alleged loss to the entire profession of medicine. The person who is dying and suffering is somehow forgotten. John goes further. The interests of the patient are secondary. Acknowledging that such a patient – "individuals may feel, (emphasis mine) they are making a valid decision to end their life. But the wishes of individuals do not balance the harm done to the profession and to society by deliberately taking life."

      The word "feel" devalues the validity of the patient's dying wishes.

      Beyond the condescension of minimizing the patient's right to determine how his last moments are to be and who will have control over that finality, is McMenamin's serious misrepresentation of the EOLC and the actions of physicians who would assist their dying patients.

      The author uses the phrase "taking life" several times, falsely applying it to the EOLC .

      While life may be taken as a result of accident or surgical complications, deliberate taking of life is permitted only to military at war, police in dangerous circumstances or a citizen in self-defence. Even that last is qualified. Deliberate taking of life is otherwise murder.

      The EOLC Act requires that the request for physician assistance in dying must come from the patient, a person who is both competent and suffering from terminal illness. At least two doctors must agree to the eligibility of the patient (not mentally ill, not unduly influenced, etc). Patients' consent must be competent, informed, and continuous. Patients remain in control throughout and their wishes constantly respected. That's the opposite of taking life. It's mitigating the fear of dying, the loss of autonomy and of dignity.

      To dispel the fear from Dr. McMenamin's predictions of harm to society and to medicine we have only to look at the 25 year history of the law in the US state of Oregon, the source of our EOLC Act. None of his predicted harms came to be. Initially opposed by religious groups, it is now widely accepted--and copied.

      Relatively few dying patients avail themselves of the law. Among those deemed eligible 18% changed their minds and did not accept the prescription. Many expressed gratitude for the comfort afforded by the option.

      The arguments by doctors on both sides of EOLC may well be dismissed as "he said and he said." Instead, echoing Greta Thunberg's words on climate change, "Don't listen to me. Inform yourselves."

      The EOLC Act can be found here – http://www.legislation.govt.nz/bill/member/2017/0269/latest/whole.html. Read it and decide. I believe informed New Zealanders will do the right thing.

      @ Jay Kuten


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