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9 May, 2018
Source: NZ Herald
Simon O'Connor is espousing the National Party's newfound concern for the elderly and sick.
By: Jay Kuten
I've not been a fan of the Act Party. As the farther right wing of National — remember the teapot alliance of John Banks and John Key, merging class bias and dog-whistle racism — they've represented throwbacks to a faux nostalgic past. That's where everyone knew their place, especially women and darker people. Oliver Twist territory.
Then along came David Seymour. The Act leader's dance steps may not be sure-footed, but his End of Life Choice bill covers most of the floor of what's necessary to give the terminally ill the autonomy and dignity they deserve at the end of a life.
There is a significant minority vigorously opposed to people having the choice to decide how their lives should end. National MP Simon O'Connor (Chronicle, May 7) is one of those voicing opposition. That is his right. What is not right is his wish to continue the present system, which permits a doctor but not a patient to make that decision. What is not right is the misrepresentation of Seymour's bill to create a fearmongering atmosphere that creates the false impression that the bill, if enacted, would result in involuntary or coerced euthanasia.
Mr O'Connor, a former priest, is aligned with a group of right-wing Catholics, including Maggie Barry and Ken Orr of Right To Life, who seek to impose their religious views on others. For clarity, let me state my support for freedom of religion and freedom of speech. That does not give anyone the right to impose their religious views on others or to use their speech to silence others or bully and frighten them into submission.
O'Connor, who accuses Seymour of hypocrisy, among other sins, needs to first take the mote out of his own eye. A major plank in the opposition platform is that the elderly are subject to "abuse, bullying and exploitation". He goes further to voice anguished concerns about rampant elder abuse, and the marginalised plight of the "seniors, sick, and disabled". These trenchant sympathies are meant to lead to the conclusion that people in these groups, elderly sick, disabled, could easily be coerced into asking for assisted suicide.
Maggie Barry, when I interviewed her, used almost the same groupings — elderly, sick and disabled — whose cause she purported to represent.
What puts the lie to these fine expressions of concern for the elderly, the sick and the disabled, is that these same National Party parliamentarians did little or nothing in their nine years of power to alleviate the burdens of the elderly, the sick, and the disabled.
When it comes to marginalised communities, especially those of the poor and of people of colour, the last National government can justifiably be called the do-nothing parliament in which essential services for the sick, the mentally unwell, the elderly were sacrificed in favour of a bottom line — Middlemore Hospital, for one example. It was a good time for the well-off. Those nine years saw 60 per cent of our national wealth go to the top 10 per cent of us. The poor, the elderly, the sick and the mentally ill, not so much.
The platform of the anti-choice, largely right-wing Catholic group, is hollow with claims of elderly coercion. Research, reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association on the laws in Canada and Oregon, on which ours is modelled, has found such claims are overblown.
I'm going to pull rank here. The task of a forensic psychiatrist in legal forums is to determine competency. The End of Life Choice Bill specifies the terms for what is needed to establish competency. The terms are stringent. They include a determination by the doctors of such matters of social and family circumstance to ensure free, voluntary choice. The terms of competency in the bill are more particular than requirements to be able to marry. Judging from the actions and the writings of those opposed to terminally ill people having choice in their own death, it's a more stringent requirement of competency than that required to serve in Parliament.
Jay Kuten is an American-trained forensic psychiatrist who emigrated to New Zealand for the fly fishing. He spent 40 years comforting the afflicted and intends to spend the rest afflicting the comfortable.
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