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  • 18 Jun 2017 2:03 PM | Philip Patston (Administrator)

    Media release from the End-of-Life Choice Society – for immediate release


    Three-quarters of New Zealand voters support a law change to allow the terminally ill and people with irreversible unbearable suffering to be helped to end their lives peacefully, according to a new poll released today.

    The Horizon poll was conducted nationwide last month (May 16-23) among 1,274 people aged 18 and over. The results were weighted to represent the New Zealand adult population at the most recent census. 

    Support for medical assistance to die for those suffering from end-stage terminal illness and irreversible unbearable suffering was 75% overall, with only 11% opposed.

    The sample of people polled was also measured by the party vote they exercised in the 2014 election. Strongest support for a law change for those suffering end stage terminal illness came from National voters (83%) and Labour voters (82%), with 77% of Green voters, 69 % of NZFirst voters, 66% of Maori Party voters and 71% of ACT voters.

    There is also majority support across all age groups with the largest support (82%) coming from 65-74 year olds, with 8 % opposed.

    Polling of another possible policy option found overall support was also very strong for medical assistance to die for people who had irreversible conditions, such as motor neurone disease, which may not cause death in the immediate future, with 66% in favour and 15% opposed or strongly opposed.

    “MPs need to consider these results as they listen to their constituents, in the lead-up to the September General Election,” said Maryan Street, President of the End-of-Life Choice Society.

    “Not only does this poll show increased support for end of life choice since the last time it was conducted on my own bill in 2012, when 63% were in favour, it shows how small the opposition is by comparison. This is a testament to the compassion of New Zealanders,” she said.

    Summary results and the full report are available at:


    Maryan Street 021 977 555 

    President EOLC Society

  • 12 Jun 2017 12:14 PM | Philip Patston (Administrator)

    OPINION: Politicians really didn't want ACT leader David Seymour's voluntary euthanasia bill drawn from the ballot this week.

    Then they got the uncomfortable memo; Dear MP, get off your backside (and off the fence) and debate one of the most sensitive and divisive issues a society can face.

    In other words: brace yourselves, this just got deadly serious.

    Continue reading on Stuff »

  • 28 May 2017 6:05 PM | Philip Patston (Administrator)


    28 May 2017 (updated 31 May 2017)

    A visiting Belgian medical expert says New Zealand would be wise to adopt laws to control physician assisted dying if it is to put an end to the clandestine practices currently going on to help the terminally ill in this country.

    Professor Jan Bernheim, an oncologist, was among the founders of Continuing Care Community, the first palliative care organisation outside the UK, and pressed for the law change in Belgium, which as of 15 years ago  allows physicians to assist irreversibly suffering patients who want to die.

    “New Zealand and Australian studies show that euthanasia here is practised in the dark, as it was in Belgium before the law change in 2002. It is uncontrolled and liable to abuse. In Belgium we’ve put an end to the clandestine practice, and because of the openness of the whole process, abuse of the dying patient is much less probable now that it is legalised with strict controls and peer review in place.” The law also protects caregivers from undue prosecution.

    Professor Bernheim says prior to the law change in Belgium, dying patients who requested euthanasia with the knowledge of their families or nursing staff were less likely to get it because doctors were worried they could be charged with murder if someone who knew about the request objected to euthanasia.

    He says that ironically, before the law, dying patients with intractable suffering who did not request euthanasia were more likely to get their suffering shortened paternalistically by doctors. The legislation put an end to this sad paradox.

    Professor Bernheim says New Zealanders should not be afraid of changing the law to regulate euthanasia. Those who object to it for personal religious or philosophical reasons will be respected, but should not impose their views on others. He says there would be strict controls in place and that the best control is openness, allowing peer review and control. Those who choose voluntary euthanasia have to be of sound mind, not coerced, beyond effective further medical help, repeatedly ask for assistance to die, and have at least two physicians’ consent. Each case must be reported for review by an expert independent controlling body.

    There is a similar law in the Netherlands and since 2016 Québec, Canada, has enacted a law that largely reproduces the Belgian model of integral end-of-life care, namely euthanasia embedded in palliative care.

    Under the Belgian law euthanasia is mainly administered at the end of a palliative care pathway (74% of physician-assisted deaths) but Professor Bernheim says this does not cause a wave of deaths. “It is for those who are already dying. In Belgium, voluntary euthanasia is just 4% (about 2000) of all deaths each year. As many people say, we do this for our pets when they are terminally ill. When people are suffering unbearably it is what any good physician would do.”

    While Professor Bernheim said there were initial concerns from some of the religious groups in Belgium, since the law change a number of those have come around. “The Catholic congregation who run psychiatric care for a long time refused to allow euthanasia as part of their practice – they have now adopted it after seeing how the model works.”

    And Professor Bernheim’s message to our Catholic Prime Minister, Bill English, is: “He can have a serious look at what his brethren in Belgium do and I think he might see that this is compatible with modern Catholicism. Often, ministers of the faith are in attendance. Those who attach major value to the spiritual dimension of dying should be made aware of the results of Belgian research showing that cases of euthanasia are preceded by much more intensive spiritual care than conventional death.”

    Professor Bernheim is in New Zealand for a series of public talks around New Zealand entitled “Dying Well in Belgium”.

    He has been brought to New Zealand by the Voluntary Euthanasia Society. Its president Maryan Street has set up an additional series of meetings to help health professionals understand the ramifications and how it works in Belgium.


    Professor Jan Bernheim Public Meetings schedule:

    Sun 28 May Hamilton

    Mon 29 May New Plymouth

    Tues 30 May Palmerston North

    Thurs 1 June Napier

    Sat 3 June Wellington

    Sun 4 June Nelson

    Sat 10 June Christchurch

    Sat 17 June Auckland

    Prof Bernheim Contact Details for media: Maryan Street 021 977 555

    VES Media contact: David Barber 021 072 8760

  • 13 May 2017 10:55 AM | Philip Patston (Administrator)
    A euthanasia advocate has denied three charges connected with assisted suicide when she appeared in Wellington District Court this morning.

    Susan Austen leaves court after denying three charges connected with assisted suicide.

    Photo: RNZ / Eric Frykberg

    Susan Austen denied three charges this morning. 

    Susan Austen, 66, is accused of helping Annemarie Treadwell, 77, commit suicide between December 2015 and June 2016.

    She is also charged with two counts of importing the sedative narcotic pentobarbitane, also known as Nembutol, which is a class C drug.

    Ms Austen is the former chairperson of the Wellington branch of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society.

    The case arose after police used a breath-testing stop to target voluntary euthanasia supporters as they left a meeting in Lower Hutt last October.

    Ms Austen was remanded on bail until July.

    The court will hear a request to alter her bail conditions next week.

    Assisting suicide carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison, but opponents of the law want that changed.

    Suicide laws 'idiocy' - campaigner

    Meanwhile, the End of Life Choice Voluntary Euthanasia Society called for the law to be changed to allow people who were suffering to end their own lives.

    Outside the courtroom the society's president, Maryan Street, declined to comment on the case but criticised the law.

    "What I do condemn is the idiocy of the law that makes compassion a crime.

    "That is the thing that we are striving to change. It seems still to me that the only people in the country who don't understand this are the MPs."

    Ms Street said people sometimes conflated legitimate concerns about the youth suicide rate with rational decisions by people to end their own suffering.

    Assisted dying is currently under consideration by parliament's Health Select Committee.

    Source: RNZ

  • 02 May 2017 12:06 PM | Philip Patston (Administrator)
    The Voluntary Euthanasia Society of NZ has organised a number of public meetings around the country between 27 May and 17 June featuring Jan Bernheim, an emeritus professor of medicine at the Free University of Brussels. Prof Bernheim studies ethics and quality of life. He believes that voluntary euthanasia is “part of a philosophy of taking control of one’s own existence and improving the objective conditions for happiness. There is an arrow of evolution that goes toward ever more reducing of suffering and maximizing of enjoyment.” (The New Yorker, June 2015)

  • 08 Apr 2017 12:50 PM | Philip Patston (Administrator)

    The Health Select Committee concluded hearings on the End of Life Choice petition this week. Here is a good roundup of views by Chris Bramwell of RNZ. Let's hope they bring out a brave and forward-looking report for the next Government to act on. They could look to Victoria for a good example.

    Radio NZ's Deputy Political Editor, Chris Bramwell talks to VESNZ's Maryan Street, Act Party's David Seymour and others about the thorny topic. Click here to listen »

  • 21 Feb 2017 2:38 PM | Philip Patston (Administrator)

    David BarberMonday, February 13 2017

    I thank the committee for the opportunity to make a personal submission on voluntary euthanasia which I believe to be one of the most critical issues facing society today.

    I wish to speak on only one aspect – the need for provision of an end-of-life directive to be included in legislation allowing physician-assisted dying.

    Why do I feel so strongly on this issue? My wife was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s Disease at the age of 48. Two years later, I had to make arrangements for her to attend a day care centre so that I could continue working.

    As her condition deteriorated I could no longer care for her and at the age of 52 she was admitted to a secure unit at Porirua Hospital. She died aged 55 after falling and breaking a hip. She never recovered from the resulting replacement surgery.

    We had been married 33 years, had three children and happily survived the stresses and strains of moving a family to and from five countries dictated by my work.

    She was a strong, capable, independent and proud woman and her rapid decline with its consequent loss of dignity distressed her, me and our children enormously.

    Her advanced Alzheimer’s meant she was incontinent, unable to feed and dress herself, or recognise friends and family. A pioneering female journalist and a feminist before the word became fashionable, she could no longer write, read, or take part in the social intercourse that made her a popular friend to hundreds of people we met around the world.

    She spent her days in Porirua endlessly walking the confined corridors of the secure unit – it was a prison of necessity because while Alzheimer’s patients pose no threat to society, they wander and have to be locked up for their own safety.

    That was her “unbearable suffering” – a phrase you are hearing much about.

    I knew Frances well and I know that she did not want to live in that condition and would have welcomed the ability to choose an end to her suffering had she retained her mental faculties. She could have lived in misery for another 30 years or so - an unbearable prospect for anyone - and her early demise was a blessing for her and us all.

    I submit that an End-of-Life Directive requesting a physician’s help to end suffering if a person developed severe dementia should be included in far-sighted legislation.

    It will, of course, have to be signed and witnessed before the onset of dementia with all the safeguards one expects to be included in the new law permitting physician-assisted dying.

    I have signed an Advance Directive for Health Care declaring that if I develop Alzheimer’s, a terminal illness or severe degenerative disease, cannot recognise my family and am mentally incompetent to accept or decline life sustaining treatment I should not be resuscitated, placed on life support or fed by conventional or artificial means.

    When the law is changed, I would want these provisions superseded by a request for a physician to end my life so that I could die peacefully in the company of friends and family rather than have to resort to a lonely suicide to end my suffering.

    Spending years with dementia is the biggest fear of many people – it is feared more than cancer, for example - and I suggest that anyone who has experienced the horror of watching a loved one suffer the ravages of that most terrible of diseases would prefer a merciful release.

    I believe a law change is inevitable because the majority of people want it – 66% are in favour, according to a survey published in the New Zealand Medical Journal last month.

    I want to stress that people like me are talking only of “voluntary” euthanasia for those who want the choice to end unbearable suffering. I hope that stories like mine will help convince the committee to recommend a compassionate new law that upholds the human right to die, as well as to live, as we wish.

    I would like to finish with an anecdote about a young American soldier caught in a hail of machine gun fire as his unit landed on a Normandy beach on D-Day in 1944.

    The bullets tore through his chest, shot off an arm and blew away most of his face. His pain was unimaginable; his fate obvious. He begged his mates to end his suffering with a bullet.

    …Is there anyone in this room who would have denied him?

  • 15 Jan 2017 11:41 AM | Philip Patston (Administrator)

    Friday, 13 January 2017, 2:27 pm

    Fresh evidence that an overwhelming majority of New Zealanders favour medically assisted dying for the terminally ill should convince politicians to change the law, a spokesman for the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, said Friday.

    Dr Jack Havill, VESNZ immediate past president, said Parliament’s health select committee, which is currently holding a public inquiry into the issue of voluntary euthanasia, should take heed of the survey in the latest New Zealand Medical Journal showing that just 12 per cent of people opposed it.

    “The question must be asked why our politicians are so cagey about promoting a changed law,” he said. “They must be scared of the vocal 12 per cent minority.”

    Eyeing the coming general election, Dr Havill said: “Perhaps they should say to themselves that there are lots of votes to be gained here and a well presented law would probably have over 80 per cent support by the time some of the neutral group made up their minds.”

    The University of Auckland survey of 15,822 people published in the NZ Medical Journal concluded: “There is strong public support for euthanasia when people are asked whether doctors should be allowed by law to end the life of a patient with a painful incurable disease upon their request.”

    It found 66 per cent in favour, 21.7 per cent neutral or unsure and 12.3 per cent strongly opposed.

    Dr Havill said support for medically assisted dying was growing in line with the trend around the world with the number of New Zealanders in favour over three per cent higher than the 62.9 per cent recorded in a Horizon Research survey in 2012. The percentage opposed remained the same.

    The health select committee considering the issue received the largest number of submissions ever sent to Parliament for a public inquiry.

    Parliament heavily defeated the first bid to change the law which makes it a crime to help somebody to die in 1995 but a new Death with Dignity Bill was lost by only one vote in 2003.


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