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by Revd Canon Rosie Harper UK | Christians Supporting Choice for Voluntary Euthanasia
“Don’t tell me that the time of someone’s death is purely God’s business. That at the moment when all a human soul wants is for it to end, God stands at the end of the bed and says: ‘No my child, it is my will that you suffer just a few more days.’”………
It’s the beginning of a new year and the script is that we talk about hope. It was a challenging 2017 but things will be OK. New opportunities, fresh blessings, more love and more joy.
So why am I wanting to talk about death? Well, it’s personal and also professional.
It’s personal because I have just booked flights back to Switzerland to go to the funeral of my much loved uncle Albin. He died two days before Christmas, aged 82, gently and peacefully with his family around him. About six years ago his younger brother Otto also died peacefully with his family around him. The difference was that Albin died of old age and dementia, Otto died of a nasty aggressive brain tumour. Albin died ‘naturally’. Otto, being Swiss, was able to request and receive the help he needed to die in a dignified and pain-free peaceful way. This merciful intervention in no way changed the fact of his death, and even now the sorrow is hard to bear, but it did cut short the last bitter agonies of the manner of his dying.
It is professional because in the parish where I work there are a lot of funerals. Mostly the bereaved tell me of the immense kindness of all around; family and friends, doctors and nurses. They tell of the shock of sudden unexpected death and also the oblique conversations about the use of morphine. They also sometimes tell me of bad deaths. Deaths where there is no way of giving the dying person their final wish: ‘Please, dear God, please help me to die.’
Don’t tell me that the time of someone’s death is purely God’s business. That at the moment when all a human soul wants is for it to end, God stands at the end of the bed and says: ‘No my child, it is my will that you suffer just a few more days.’
That is pure fatalism and superstition. Even people who would use language such as ‘God has a plan for your life’ don’t actually mean that everything that happens to them from birth to death is controlled. Of course not. We rejoice in our free will, even in the knowledge that we risk misusing it. That’s part of the deal. Our conception is a risk. We may be born to loving parents, or our mother might have been kidnapped and raped. The will of God? Throughout our lives we make choices and many of them are life and death choices. To smoke or drink or over-eat. To enjoy extreme sports, to ride a motorbike. For all those things we choose and we also take responsibility.
When our lives are nearing the end there are now many societies where that degree of both choice and responsibility remains. That is not the case in the UK.
Just when you might think we need our freedom the most, the medical profession, by law, takes it away from us. Just when you might think that God would most honour the freedom he has given us, the Christian community takes it away from us.
I’m with Hans Küng. If the time comes, and it is necessary for me, I would find it a fulfilment of my life of faith to be able to say to God: ‘Loving Father, I thank you for the most wonderful gift of life. The burden of it is now too much for me to bear and so with every ounce of love and gratitude I can muster I give it back to you.’
Rev Canon Rosie Harper is chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham and a member of the Church of England’s General Synod.
Richard Simpson, pictured at home in his Christchurch garden.
OPINION: As a 47-year-old man, married for 20-something years, two wonderful daughters, running a successful business, the last thing I expected was to be told I had terminal cancer.
It snuck up on me, hiding behind fatigue that I thought was due to working too hard. As a cyclist and runner, I was used to battling fatigue but this was different. More and more often, I found myself on the nod (the advantage of working at home) but stubbornly went about carving away at my business.
It was the cough that took me to the doctors. Four weeks of a cough that went nowhere, did nothing and generally made me grumpy. I went to the doctor, had a blood test, went back for more blood tests and then an ultrasound. There were rumblings in the room that something was not right. One week later and I was in A&E with a painful and swollen leg with the diagnosis of a huge blood clot in my leg and multiple pulmonary embolisms (clots) in my lungs. Then came the good stuff: a tumour on the pancreas, that appears to have spread to my liver and lymph nodes.
Another week later, this is confirmed as cancer with no possibility for surgery. I am now dying and with chemotherapy extending the time I have left, I have perhaps one year, maybe more if I am lucky.
This for an active, live life to the full kind of guy is, as you could imagine, a shock to the core. Over the past few weeks, I have come to terms with my own impending mortality and its arrival faster than expected. My family have taken the news hard but we are managing and coping, planning the time we have ahead of us to be the best it can. We see the year ahead as a time where we get to shape how I want to leave the world.
My family and friends are all that is important to me now and in that respect, I have been very, very lucky. There will be parties, laughter, sharing stories and sharing the rich diversity of the life I have been so lucky to lead. Perhaps that was my problem, I simply burnt the candle at both ends.
Right now, to look at me, I might seem fine, maybe a little thinner than the last time you saw me but otherwise looking OK. My head's been shaved as the family has wanted to do it for years so I finally relented and discovered to my relief that I don't have an oddly-shaped noggin. I’m walking around, smiling and being the same old larrikin I used to be, just a little slower. But I know this will not last.
I’ve finished my first round of chemotherapy but there is no knowing what the remaining 11 rounds will do to me. Once those have finished, will my descent be fast, or will the tumours have retreated? These are all unknowns at this time. The only known right now is to enjoy every precious moment with those I love.
At some point within the discernable future, my body will begin to fail. It will no longer have the energy to fight what is eating it from the inside as I increasingly become a prisoner within the shell I inhabit. There will be no other treatment options other than pain relief as I am forced to lie, sit, slump, whatever it may be and watch my family grow anxious with time. Days will become longer as we wait on tenterhooks before I slip away.
I feel it should be my choice when I decide to leave. My wife and I have discussed this and we agree - prolonging the inevitable is prolonging the pain for all of us. I want to pass with the dignity that reflects the wishes of not just me, but those who love me and those who are close to me. When all the fun has been had, when my body has failed and my mind exhausted, I want to have the option to peacefully die on my own terms.
The notion that I have to remain alive until the doctors can do no more is a harrowing thought. I will have to witness the pain and sadness on the faces of those I care so deeply about.
I believe that when there are no longer any more options to preserve life, pain and suffering are the only knowns, I should be allowed, under New Zealand law to pass with dignity and respect.
Richard Simpson is a Christchurch businessman and father of two.
Media release Thursday May 9 – for immediate publication
As Parliament prepares to vote on the End of Life Choice Bill this month, a new poll shows a clear majority of New Zealanders want to allow doctors to help the terminally ill to die painlessly and with dignity.
The Horizon Research poll confirmed consistent surveys showing that fewer than one-in-five voters oppose a law change.
The poll, taken last month after the justice select committee reported on a record 39,000 submissions on the bill, found 74 percent of respondents believe that mentally competent New Zealanders aged 18 or over with an end-stage terminal disease like cancer should be able to get medical assistance to end their lives.
Sixty-five percent of voters believe it should also be available for people with “irreversible unbearable suffering which may not cause death in the immediate future” (like motor neurone disease).
In both cases, just 19 percent of New Zealanders were against the proposal.
The pollsters said support for medically assisted dying had risen since Horizon’s first survey on the subject in July 2012, when 63 percent supported a law change.
MPs are expected to vote on the second reading of ACT leader David Seymour’s bill on May 22.
“This shows MPs that a substantial majority of voters remain adamant that they want an enlightened law allowing medical assistance in dying (MAID) despite a vigorous campaign of lies and misinformation mounted by opponents,” Maryan Street, President of the End-of-Life Choice Society, said on Thursday.
There was strong support for MAID across all age groups, ethnicities and political parties, based on voting at the last election in 2017.
All parties currently represented in Parliament had voters who overwhelmingly supported assisted dying ranging in percentages from 65% to 93%.
The poll of 1,341 voters was taken between April 19-29 and the results weighted to represent the New Zealand adult population. Horizon says the margin of error is plus or minus 2.7 percent.
Eds: A graph illustrating key poll results is attached.
More information: Maryan Street, 021-977-555
Released by David Barber, media adviser 021-072-8760
Click to enlarge:
Jim Vause | 24 April 2019 | NZ Doctor
It seems our ethics on this matter are plagued by opinion, beliefs, awed interpretation of evidence and biases of individual professional realms
There is something very paternalistic about the “Doctors say no” letter opposing medically assisted euthanasia (i).
The letter’s rationale that, “to intentionally assist a person to die would fundamentally weaken the doctor-patient relationship which is based on trust and respect” is akier than lo.
For a terminally ill patient to ask their doctor to cease their suffering by assisting them to advance their death usually reflects a deep trust often built up over years of a GP-patient relationship. Any GP worth their salt will know this. I do not buy the letter’s argument.
Similarly, the NZMA using the argument that “the proper provision of such (pain) relief, even when it may hasten the death of the patient, is not unethical” to justify opposing doctor-assisted suicide fails when the patient’s desire for death is due to suffering, but not of pain.
Rationality is further eroded by their statement: “We are of the view that permitting individuals to end their lives with the assistance of a doctor — even when that assistance is limited to assessment, verification or prescribing — is contrary to the ethics.”
Standing on the top of a seven-strand fence or dancing on a pin? This seems a common circumstance when it comes to the NZMA arguments, a situation probably resulting from the clinical experience of those realms of medicine opposed to medically assisted euthanasia and one in which palliative care features very strongly.
Consider: What is the underlying reason for most persons committing suicide? It is due to mental illness. Depression, anxiety and a few other mental states.
If doctor-assisted suicide was available, how many persons contemplating suicide would seek help rather than killing themselves? Don’t know.
Does palliative care treat these persons? No. Are the mental states leading to suicide treatable or do they attenuate with time? Yo.
In some persons, it is irreversible and they continue to suffer until they die, irrespective of medical intervention. Underlying is a neurological disease, usually degenerative, often difficult to detect, if at all.
It is hard to refute the rationale that ending such a life when suffering is unbearable is better than continued futile medical interventions that don’t work, lead to a loss of dignity (see the NZMA Code of ethics) and cause suffering in their own right.
To end such suffering in a manner that preserves that person’s dignity and is painless, is vastly better and humane than the terror, physically and emotionally, of an ill-planned gruesome suicide with all the concomitant distress and social angst it causes family and friends.
Does allowing the latter through doing nothing meet the NZMA’s Code of Ethics that “requires doctors to always bear in mind the obligation to preserve life wherever possible and justiable, while allowing death to occur with dignity and comfort when it appears inevitable”?
Ultimately, I feel that taking this absolute position, one of medical control, has the malodour of a paternalistic profession that comes from a position of believing that it knows everything about the human condition and can treat all its malfunctioning, when in reality it knows so little about how the brain works, and what it does, and is thus so limited.
Terminal patients want to maintain control, especially for dignity.(ii) We advocate for advanced directives while patient rights are articulated explicitly in our H&DC code, yet we seem to nd it too hard to do the difcult thing, exemplified by the NZMA statement that, “It seems that doctors are somewhat reluctant to take on the weight of the burden that we are asked to assume by legalising active euthanasia.”
It seems our ethics on this matter are plagued by opinion, beliefs, awed interpretation of evidence and biases of individual professional realms. A change in our ethics is only a matter of time.
[ii] J Med Ethics. 2006 Dec; 32(12): 706–710.
What people close to death say about euthanasia and assisted suicide: a qualitative study
A Chapple, S Ziebland, A McPherson, and A Herxheimer
Former Prime Minister Sir Bill English and his wife Dr Mary English are fiercely opposed to the End of Life Choice Bill. Photo/Bauer Media/NZ Women's Weekly.
Opponents of David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill are pulling out all the stops to kill it on May 22.
If you’re an opponent of assisted dying laws and you want to advance your cause, best not conflate the plight of suicidal young people and that of the terminally ill who are asking to shave a few days or weeks off the end of their lives to avoid the worst of their distress.
It didn’t work well for National MP Simon O’Connor, chairman of the Health select committee inquiry, when he asserted the same false equivalence in 2017 and ran into a storm of criticism. And it’s certainly not working for Dr Mary English right now.
A meme circulating on the internet featuring a photo of the Wellington GP beside the words: “If assisted suicide is a triumph for autonomy and choice, how can youth suicide be a tragedy?” has been howled down.
Libertarian columnist Damien Grant said that while there are good arguments against assisted suicide, that isn’t one of them.
Left-wing blogger Martyn Bradbury, who is staunchly opposed to assisted dying, described it as “ugly”.
Green MP Chloe Swarbrick was similarly outraged, tweeting: “Young people are tragically opting out of their lives because they are not receiving support and they don’t have faith in a better future. They’ve had autonomy and choice stolen from them. Don’t dare equate that to people on their death bed seeking dignity in their final days.”
Others offered false equivalences of their own. As one wag put it: “If a planned heart transplant by a professional surgeon is a triumph of medical science, why is an unplanned heart transplant on a random pedestrian by an untrained amateur with a kitchen knife considered a tragedy?”
You know it’s a howler when even Renee Joubert, from Euthanasia-Free NZ, disowns it. She wrote: “I think it’s important to understand this meme in context. It was not created or published by Dr Mary English but by an Australian anti-euthanasia organisation.
“They took a sentence from her oral submission to Parliament’s Justice Committee, in which she was deliberately using this statement to illustrate a point.”
In fact, if you listen to Dr English’s submission, the words reproduced in the meme represent exactly the point she was making. There was no other context.
And it’s hardly unusual for opponents to make the same odious comparison. On Newstalk ZB in February, her husband, Sir Bill English, told Chris Lynch: “How do we tell young people not to consider suicide as a solution to their depression on the one hand but, on the other, say that if you ask for euthanasia, the state will organise it and provide a doctor?”
You don’t have to be very thoughtful to see the clear difference between a depressed teenager who is going through a rough patch and a rational person who wants help to die to avoid the last, most distressing phase of a terminal illness.
The fact is opponents of assisted dying are pulling out all the stops to derail David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill at its second reading on May 22 and the meme featuring Dr English’s statement is just one example of the less-than-admirable tactics they are willing to employ.
On April 27, a group that calls themselves DefendNZ sent a 94-page booklet to every member of Parliament that features a variety of people — from the disabled to doctors — outlining why they don’t want assisted dying legislation passed.
Presumably in an effort to cast its net as wide as possible, the booklet also poses entirely irrelevant questions such as: “Is the End of Life Choice Bill a colonial imposition?”
It states: “The End of Life Choice Bill is largely deaf to Māori conceptions of people and death as well as tikanga Māori” — without acknowledging that the whole point of Seymour’s bill is that it provides only for voluntary assisted dying.
Under the bill’s provisions, Māori — like everyone else — would be entirely free to die in whichever manner they wanted. The bill has no implications for them apart from offering a choice.
On its website, under the heading “The Top 5 Reasons Why MPs Should Vote ‘No’ at the Second Reading”, DefendNZ encourages readers to contact their MP to ask them to vote against the bill.
One of the five reasons suggested to pass on to MPs includes the fact the debate in Parliament will be complex and time-consuming.
DefendNZ warns MPs there will be lengthy debates over amendments to the bill and to “expect the conversations to get longer and much more intense… Should the bill pass its second reading, the Committee of the Whole House stage will likely be extremely lengthy, as dozens of MPs try to fix the bill.”
This amounts to asking MPs: “Why not guarantee yourself an easier life by simply voting it down at the second reading?”
If comparing youth suicide and assisted dying for the terminally ill is an underhand tactic, this appeal to MPs’ self-interest must qualify as a new low in the debate.
We can expect a lot more public campaigning by opponents in the three weeks until MPs get to vote on whether to allow Seymour’s bill to proceed further. The last thing they want is for the bill to be allowed to go to a referendum at the next election because they fear — undoubtedly correctly — that they will lose. If the bill is voted down at its second or third reading, there will be no referendum.
Opponents also don’t want the bill to pass its second reading because it would give Parliament a chance to make it more palatable to those MPs who might approve of the terminally ill receiving an assisted death but baulk at the inclusion of people with “grievous and irremediable conditions”. (Seymour has proposed removing that clause as well as specifying that mental illness and disability alone will not satisfy eligibility criteria, among other changes.)
In other words, opponents don’t want the bill to have the chance of being amended in such a way that it answers many of the objections presented in submissions to the Justice select committee. They are determined to kill it as soon as possible.
The other circumstance that adds urgency to the campaign to sink Seymour’s bill quickly is that on June 19 more than a quarter of Australia’s population will get access to assisted dying when Victoria’s legislation takes effect.
Religious activists in New Zealand and Australia see the two nations as effectively one battlefield. They worry that more victories like Victoria’s will create a domino effect across both nations.
And they have reason to worry. Western Australia’s government is presenting its own bill in August or September, after a year-long, cross-party parliamentary inquiry recommended an assisted dying regime that would look very like the one David Seymour has proposed.
The fact it is a government bill and that support for assisted dying is running at well over 80 per cent in polls in Western Australia means there is a strong likelihood it will pass.
Queensland has a parliamentary inquiry under way that is considering assisted dying legislation for the first time in the state’s history. And another bill will be presented in New South Wales this year, after a Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill failed to pass in the NSW Upper House by just one vote in 2017.
The Australian organisation responsible for the Dr English meme is called Hope, an initiative dedicated to opposing assisted dying, which is allied to the Australian Family Association. The AFA is a Christian lobby group set up by Australia’s most famous Catholic political lobbyist, Bob Santamaria, in 1979.
Some New Zealanders will object to an overseas religious group attempting to influence our laws and will be tempted to respond in the same way as Judith Collins did in March when she learned the NRA was trying to meddle in our gun-law debate. She recommended they “Bugger off!”
Hope, however, appears to be hopeless — at creating effective memes, at least.
This recent extension of its mission across the Tasman certainly looks to have been more hindrance than help to those who are keen to kill Seymour’s bill.
New Jersey Governor Philip Murphy / Patch
GOVERNOR’S STATEMENT UPON SIGNING
ASSEMBLY BILL NO. 1504
Today I am signing the “Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act”, Assembly Bill No. 1504 (Second Reprint), which permits terminally ill, adult patients residing in New Jersey to obtain and self-administer medication to end their lives peacefully and humanely. I commend the bill’s sponsors — particularly Assemblyman Burzichelli, for whom this bill has been an extremely passionate and personal mission since he first introduced it seven years ago — for their tireless efforts to craft legislation that respects the dignity and autonomy of capable individuals to make end-of-life decisions.
The legislation I am signing today is the product of a near-decade long debate among policy makers, religious organizations, experts in the medical community, advocates for persons with disabilities, and patients, among many others. Without question, reasonable and well-meaning individuals can, and very often do, hold different moral views on this topic. Through years of legislative hearings, countless witnesses, many of whom shared deeply personal and heart-wrenching testimony, offered compelling arguments both in favor of and against this legislation.
As a lifelong, practicing Catholic, I acknowledge that I have personally grappled with my position on this issue. My faith has informed and enhanced many of my most deeply held progressive values. Indeed, it has influenced my perspectives on issues involving social justice, social welfare, and even those topics traditionally regarded as strictly economic, such as the minimum wage. On this issue, I am torn between certain principles of my faith and my compassion for those who suffer unnecessary, and often intolerable, pain at the end of their lives.
It is undeniable that there are people with terminal illnesses whose lives are reduced to agony and pain. Some of these individuals may thoughtfully and rationally wish to bring an end to their own suffering but cannot do so because the law prevents it and compels them to suffer, unnecessarily and against their will. I have seen such debilitating suffering firsthand in my own family, and I deeply empathize with all individuals and their families who have struggled with end-of-life medical decisions. As things now stand, it is the law, rather than one’s own moral and personal beliefs, that governs such decisions. That is not as it should be. After careful consideration, internal reflection, and prayer, I have concluded that, while my faith may lead me to a particular decision for myself, as a public official I cannot deny this alternative to those who may reach a different conclusion. I believe this choice is a
personal one and, therefore, signing this legislation is the decision that best respects the freedom and humanity of all New Jersey residents.
Date: April 12, 2019
/s/ Philip D. Murphy
by Andrew Geddis
Source: The Dominion Post
David Seymour, sponsor of the End of Life Choice Bill, is looking to will propose changes at a future stage of the debate that will limit the any legislation's scope.
OPINION: Alex Penk, chief executive of the Maxim Institute, has concerns about the End of Life Choice Bill currently awaiting a second reading in Parliament. There's nothing wrong with that, as the issue is one that reasonable people can disagree on.
However, I think some of his concerns are misplaced, and others are missing some important context.
First of all, Penk worries about the parliamentary process being used to pass this proposed law. Its sponsor, David Seymour, will propose changes at a future stage of the debate that will limit its scope. That fact means that the bill's final shape is still somewhat uncertain.
However, what he doesn't note is that this process is required because those MPs on the justice select committee opposed to the bill blocked Seymour's changes from being incorporated into it at that earlier stage. No doubt they worried that other MPs would be more likely to support this limited bill than the original version.
It's then a little rich for the bill's opponents to complain that it is being enacted via a flawed process. And in any case, it seems almost certain that any final bill will require a referendum vote to become law, giving the ultimate say on its merits to the voters themselves.
Penk then raises the spectre that any legislation may be misapplied, leading to "deaths that would fall outside the bill's own criteria". This could occur, he worries, because of the difficulties involved in determining whether someone at the end of life really is competent to consent to a doctor's actions.
Of course, the End of Life Choice Bill requires that anyone requesting aid in dying be fully and directly informed of that decision's consequences. Their doctor also must use best efforts to ensure the request is free from pressure from any other person.
Two doctors would then independently assess the competency of that person to request aid in dying. If either doctor disagrees about this, a third specialist would be brought in to examine the case.
Compare this process to a lucid person with late-stage cancer who says that they want to end treatment and "let nature take its course". Although that decision will result in the patient's death, their doctor simply has to accept it as a competently made choice without any prescribed process being followed.
As such, we see shifting concerns about "competence", depending on what people are choosing to do. My suspicion is that these concerns don't really reflect an underlying judgment about whether people at their end of life are able to properly consent to treatment; after all, they already do so on multiple occasions every day.
Rather, it comes from a fear that people will choose something those opposed to aid in dying just don't like.
Penk then points to the slippery slope that opponents of aid in dying reliably claim will follow any legislation. In his case, it is to warn that other countries have extended access to people under 18 (which the End of Life Choice Bill would not allow).
It's an interesting argument that we can't possibly change the law today because we cannot trust some future majority of MPs, elected by a future majority of voters, not to change it further.
Laws in New Zealand do not alter by magic; they require Parliament to decide to act.
So, if and when there was some future proposal to widen the range of people who may access aid in dying, that would involve a new bill and full public debate on its merits. If we then collectively think the further change is a good idea, we can do it. If not, then we don't have to.
So, rather than worry about what our future selves may decide to do at some point years from now, we should ask ourselves whether the proposal in front of us today is a good one.
For as Penk notes, allowing aid in dying will mean people approaching the inevitable end of their lives can ask themselves: is my life still worth living? For some people, with their death approaching and experiencing unbearable suffering, the quite understandable answer will be no.
Are we as a society then going to be so cruel as to tell them, in effect, "tough luck"?
* Andrew Geddis a professor of law at Otago University.
Getting his euthanasia Bill to its second reading in Parliament is a big win for David Seymour, according to Newshub's Political Editor Tova O'Brien.
On Tuesday, the Justice Select Committee reported back on the ACT leader's End of Life Choice Bill, which would give people the option to request assisted dying if they have a terminal illness or a "grievous and irremediable medical condition".
As not all committee members agreed it should be passed, all MPs will have a chance to "resolve the broader policy matters" in the House, the committee's report said.
O'Brien said that select committee process had been unprecedented.
"That select committee process was incredibly fraught, it was unprecedented, it went for 16 months, nearly 40,000 submissions," she told The AM Show.
Regardless of if the Bill passes its second reading when it heads back to the House in roughly six weeks, O'Brien said Seymour had accomplished a lot.
"This is huge and I think any MP that gets a Bill plucked out of the member's ballot, it's a lottery in the first place... it is pure serendipitous luck if it comes out," she said.
"To get it plucked out from the ballot and then to not have it shot down immediately is huge.
"Something like euthanasia, which is a major issue in New Zealand and all around the world, this is a conscience vote and to have it kinda progress in the way that it has, this is a big win for David Seymour."
There is still division in Parliament over the Bill, with many MPs, including National's Simeon Brown and Maggie Barry, staunchly against it.
Others outside of Parliament are also opposing it, including the New Zealand Disability Rights Commissioner, the New Zealand Medical Association and Hospice New Zealand.
Former Prime Minister Bill English has come out strong against the Bill, warning that making euthanasia legal in New Zealand would be a "slippery slope" and there weren't enough safeguards in the Bill.
But Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has signalled her support, something O'Brien said was unusual.
"Often she doesn't really signal which way she is going to go with these things, but she has in this case. I suppose it was going to be public pretty soon, but it can influence people in her party and it can also influence the public."
Public opinion also seems to be on Ardern and Seymour's side, with a Newshub-Reid Research poll last year finding 71 percent of people supported the Bill, with 19.5 percent opposed and 9.5 percent unsure.
But the public will have a more official method of expressing their support if Winston Peters has his way.
"If it does pass, and make its way into law, then it goes out to you, the public, because Winston Peters is only pledging his support for this Bill if there is a referendum," said O'Brien.
"So if it does all pass, and go through in that way, that will be tacked onto the 2020 election."
Media release from the End-of-Life Choice Society of NZ Inc. 9 April 2019
The End-of-Life Choice Society said Tuesday it was disappointed Parliament’s Justice Select Committee’s report into assisted dying was not bolder given the overwhelming support for a law change New Zealanders have consistently shown in reputable opinion polls.
But the society’s president Maryan Street said that it was legitimate to pass the issue to the full Parliament as it will be decided on a conscience vote by MPs. She said the committee was never likely to agree on any significant recommendations on the bill.
“It is encouraging that the committee has left the policy content of the bill largely intact, with only minor, technical and consequential amendments.”
She said not all MPs will have had a chance to hear all the expert submissions on how similar laws with stringent safeguards work overseas where nearly 200 million people in Europe, North and South America – soon to be joined by the Australian state of Victoria – have enlightened assisted dying legislation.
Maryan Street said these laws work without the worst fears of scaremongers being realised. She urged MPs to reflect the majority opinion of New Zealanders, and not be influenced by deliberately misleading information designed to advance a minority agenda.
Maryan Street, President, End-of-Life Choice Society NZ
NOTE: Maryan is overseas until Monday 15 April but available by email and phone
Tel: 64-21 977 555
Released by David Barber, EOLC media adviser 021 072 8760
Over the past 16 months tensions have risen and tempers have flared as a parliamentary committee considers the controversial assisted dying bill. Laura Walters takes a look behind closed doors at the journey of the End of Life Choice Bill.
The end is in sight for David Seymour’s euthanasia bill, after more than a year of public meetings, thousands of oral submissions, and some select committee scraps.
Newsroom understands that during the process, tensions between politicians rose to the point where some members of Parliament's Justice Committee were concerned no report would be produced.
But co-operation within the select committee room has been somewhat restored over the past couple of months, and on Tuesday afternoon the committee will report back to the House with what’s expected to be a revision-tracked report.
Seymour may have hoped the committee process would take the bill slightly further, with the three main changes needed to get the support needed to pass the bill through its second and third reading and onto a public referendum in 2020.
But no matter: if he has to, he will no doubt draft the necessary amendments – with the help of lawyers – and put them to the House during committee stages later this year.
All things being equal, the bill is expected to pass by the end of this year.
Seymour will be hoping that gives Justice Minister Andrew Little and the Electoral Commission enough time to get the question on the ticket in time for the 2020 election.
ACT leader David Seymour entered his own private member’s bill into the ballot in October 2015. Photo: Lynn Grieveson
While it might seem like things are on track now, this is a recent development in what’s been a long and hard-fought battle for the bill.
The proposed law is controversial and lends itself to emotive responses. An added complication is the fact MPs will vote based on their conscience rather than along party lines.
There has also been a coordinated and hardworking opposition campaign, with two leading campaigners sitting on the committee considering the bill in the form of National’s Nick Smith and Maggie Barry.
It all began when former MP Maryan Street presented a petition, asking Parliament to investigate public attitudes to law that would allow medically-assisted dying for people with terminal illnesses or irreversible conditions which were making their life unbearable.
The petition came soon after the court case of Wellington lawyer Lecretia Seales who, diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour, challenged New Zealand's euthanasia laws in the High Court asking for the right to die with the assistance of her GP.
The health committee carried out the inquiry, but then-Prime Minister John Key ruled out the government introducing its own voluntary euthanasia bill.
Seymour’s frustration at the campaign run by the Catholic Church grew.
Seymour’s frustration at the campaign run by the Catholic Church grew.
Meanwhile, ACT’s Seymour entered his own private member’s bill into the ballot in October 2015, and in June 2017 it was introduced to the House.
In December 2017 it passed its first reading in a conscience vote of 76 to 44, with Seymour asking that it be reported back to the House nine months later.
It fast became clear this was a hot topic, and the Justice Committee received more than 35,000 written submissions. Seymour has repeatedly likened the debate to other contentious issues like prostitution law reform, and marriage equality.
Many of the submissions were short – sometimes as little as one sentence – and in line with other submissions from groups opposed to the bill. Seymour’s frustration at the campaign run by the Catholic Church grew.
Well-known Catholics, and the country’s former first couple, Mary and Bill English, were happy to put in the hard yards for the ‘against’ campaign.
Mary English, who is a GP, has spoken at the select committee and at town hall meetings across the country. Her husband, who holds the same view, has also opposed the bill, but it's clear Mary is the more fervent of the two.
National’s Maggie Barry, who was also raised Catholic, has stepped in where the the couple have not been present. Barry has fronted at debates against Seymour, and spoken against the bill at public meetings.
It’s understood she was also the mastermind behind the plan to push for every Kiwis’ right to have their submission heard orally by the committee, if they desired.
This led to an impressive form of filibustering and kept the committee busy for five months.
During the consultation process, about 3500 people asked to speak directly to the committee, but not all who expressed an interest showed up to say their bit. A rough calculation puts oral submissions between 1500 and 2000, spread across 40 hearings. The average length of a submission was nine minutes, and hearings ran an average of six hours.
It is important to hear a range of oral submissions when select committees are considering legislation, as it gives people a chance to speak to their written submission, and for the committee to ask specific questions, or draw on the person’s expertise and experience. But many of the oral submitters expressed the same point of view, and did not suggest ways to change the substance of the bill, rather to state they were morally and spiritually opposed.
Questions were also raised about Barry's demeanour and treatment of submitters during the hearings. Last year, euthanasia advocate Dr Jack Havill lodged a complaint against Barry, saying she was showing bias and was “disparaging to submitters”.
In the end, both written and oral submissions were overwhelmingly opposed to the proposed law.
Analysis by anti-euthanasia group Euthanasia Free, found about 85 percent of published oral submissions were opposed. About 13 percent were in support and 3 percent were either unclear or neutral.
Meanwhile, the Care Alliance analysed almost all of the submissions made on the bill and found 90.2 percent were opposed, 8.1 percent were in favour and 1.7 percent were neutral or unclear. The alliance is also made up of conservative groups opposed to the bill.
However, Otago University research from last year found on average, 68.3 percent of all New Zealanders supported euthanasia with 14.9 percent opposed. The rest were neutral or unsure.
The survey analysed existing research investigating New Zealanders’ attitudes to euthanasia or assisted dying over the past 20 years. It included views of 36,304 Kiwis.
Once the countrywide roadshow wrapped up in November, the select committee came back to Wellington to work on its report to the House, including any changes and recommendations.
This was easier said than done, with a split committee of four Labour MPs and four National MPs, including Maggie Barry and Nick Smith.
The committee’s four Labour MPs voted for the bill in its first reading, and National’s Chris Bishop and Mark Mitchell also voted in favour.
But Newsroom understands National has stuck together inside the committee room, with Smith and Barry continuing to lead the charge against the bill. As recently as February, one member said there was a risk of the committee not producing a report.
By March it looked like National would only support some small technical changes, rather than any substantive amendments, which would be ultimately be needed to get the support of the Green Party and New Zealand First.
But recently, the eight, plus Seymour who has been joining the group as a non-voting member, have improved relations to produce what’s expected to be a revision-tracked report, accompanied by substantial commentary.
That commentary will likely address the amendments necessary to get it through the next two votes.
To be on the safe side, Seymour has produced his own sponsor’s report, which he says outlines recommendations on how the bill might be improved.
This would usually be the job of the select committee, but given the mood of the room, Seymour obviously wanted to be sure he was being as clear as possible about what he thought could be changed, while maintaining the essence and intent of his bill.
It’s understood to also be about half the length of what will be released by the select committee on Tuesday afternoon.
In his report, Seymour suggests including a binding referendum on the commencement of the bill at the 2020 election (in order to lock in New Zealand First’s nine votes). He also suggests amending the eligibility criteria to limit eligibility to terminal illness and, for avoidance of doubt, stating that access to assisted dying cannot be by reason of mental health conditions or disabilities only (to ensure eight votes from the Green Party caucus). He suggests incorporating the Access to Palliative Care Bill sponsored by Barry (in the hope of securing the nine votes needed from National to move it through second and third reading). These changes would be added to the bill at committee stage.
Seymour has told media he is happy with how things have ended, and “quietly confident”.
Now it’s onto the home stretch, with the bill most likely to come up for second reading after Budget speeches conclude in July, and pass by the end of the year, in what's expected to be a chaotic scene in the House, with MPs walking through the doors to vote for each change, as well as to show their final position.
Then the politicians' work is done, and all will be in the hands of voters come polling day, 2020.
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