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  • 14 Sep 2017 11:51 AM | Philip Patston (Administrator)

    Source: Lecrecia's Choice

    A few days ago, National Tamaki MP Simon O’Connor publicly commented that Labour leader Jacinda Ardern was hypocritical in her dismay at New Zealand’s deplorable youth suicide statistics while supporting assisted dying. He believes there are no shades of grey with suicide: that the ending of a life by one’s own hand, or the assistance of another, is always suicide, no matter the circumstances of the person involved, and that Ardern’s views on suicide and assisted dying were inconsistent.

    Like the Pharisees of the New Testament, he has chosen to cleave to the letter of the law, rather than its spirit. And in doing so, he has blinded himself to the different circumstances a person at the end of their life might find themselves in, and the choices they might want. For him, it’s all the same, and he’s got the dictionary to prove it.

    I don’t hold the same view as Mr O’Connor. Like most New Zealanders, I look beyond raw semantics, and see a world of difference between a depressed teenager, who needs help and support to choose life, and a rational, terminally ill human being whose quality of life is in sharp decline, who seeks to abbreviate their suffering when the outcome is almost certainly death. I am as shocked and appalled at New Zealand’s terrible record on suicide as anyone. Both Lecretia and I had the experience of losing people close to us to suicide during our youth.

    Losing friends and family to suicide is utterly heartbreaking, and it’s something New Zealand must act on. But heartlessly forcing the terminally ill to suffer against their will in service to a dictionary definition, by putting them in the same category as suicides, is not the way to do that. For all the reasons someone might have to oppose assisted dying, this must rank among the worst.

    In a speech I gave at parliament last year, I said:

    “You will notice I use the words assisted dying. I find the word suicide offensive in relation to my wife. It stifles the debate and mischaracterises my wife’s intent and those of people like her. She did not want to die. She was not depressed. She loved her life. But she was dying, and she knew it. All she sought was to exercise control over how. That distinguishes her from a suicide, whom society must help and give hope. It does not help the debate when we refer to assisted dying as suicide as it is distinct and separate and we must continue to advocate strongly for suicide prevention, which is a separate issue. We can’t do that when we call assisted dying the same thing as suicide. Words matter.”

    When the Health Select Committee began hearing submissions on ending one’s life in New Zealand, I was invited to be the first to address them. I sat across from Simon O’Connor and the rest of the committee and gave him my views. Mr O’Connor had previously told the media he would listen to all views, and welcome debate.

    However, in that hearing, Mr O’Connor would barely meet my gaze. From the time I began speaking, to the time I finished, he spent the majority of his time looking at the papers laid out in front of him. Nevertheless, I felt I had to give him the benefit of the doubt.

    This was despite some significant evidence that Mr O’Connor was not being completely impartial. Mr O’Connor is on record as being a guest speaker at a Palmerston North Parish in November 2015, outlining anti-assisted dying arguments, while the inquiry was underway. In interviews with Catholic publications during the inquiry, he encouraged people to submit to the committee against assisted dying. These are not the actions of a respectable select committee chair, a job he is paid over and above his standard MP salary to do.

    The inquiry itself chose terms of reference which reflected O’Connor’s beliefs. Instead of investigating attitudes to assisted dying in New Zealand, as the petition requested, the committee declared the terms of reference would be ‘an investigation into ending one’s life in New Zealand.’ It’s subtle, but the choice to conflate suicide with assisted dying was immediately apparent, along with the intent to drive the inquiry in a particular direction. The result, released a couple of months ago, was a fairly tepid summary of views, with no real recommendations either way.

    Despite the many emotional and personal stories presented to the committee, it’s clear that Mr O’Connor remained unmoved, and nowhere is this more apparent than in his recent comments regarding Ms Ardern.

    In a forum with Family First earlier this year, Prime Minister Bill English said: “If you’re looking to the Government to be the arbiter of morality, you are going to be constantly, consistently disappointed. What drives in my view constructive social behaviour is our families, our iwi, our churches, our communities.”

    Despite not holding the same views as the Prime Minister on assisted dying, I agree with Mr English that it is not the role of government to enforce a particular flavour of morality: Catholic, Anglican, Islamic or otherwise. And when it comes down to it, the choice to be assisted to die, or not, is one that should be consistent with one’s personal views on the morality of the act. Respecting an individual’s beliefs on this, when we each have our own views on religion and spirituality, is what a Western democracy should do. I have no problem with the Catholic church preaching against assisted dying to their congregation, but it’s wrong for them to try and use the law to impose their beliefs on those that do not share them. To steal a favourite cliche of opponents of assisted dying, that path is a slippery slope to theocracy.

    O’Connor’s comments were made on World Suicide Prevention Day, and his timing couldn’t be worse. At a time when people were grieving for friends and family lost to New Zealand’s terrible mental health epidemic, he chose to try and score political points by using the lens of his beliefs to question Ardern’s sincerity. It’s incredibly disappointing and insensitive, and I trust his party will reprimand him for it. O’Connor represents a combination of moral prescriptivism and tone-deafness that I believe our parliament would be better off without: the same strain that’s common to Colin Craig, Gordon Copeland, and Graham Capill. The National Party needs to reflect on whether it’s really appropriate for them to be an asylum for that kind of thinking while claiming as their values personal responsibility, and individual freedom and choice. That is the true inconsistency.

  • 21 Aug 2017 11:22 AM | Philip Patston (Administrator)

    "Should we pass a law allowing doctors to help people end their lives? But big questions remain - that could fundamentally change our society. Is helping someone to die a compassionate act which allows dignity in death? Or does it legitimise a risky option that could endanger the vulnerable?"

    Join Miriama Kamo and the team as they delve into this important subject.

    Click to watch the episode »

  • 16 Aug 2017 8:13 AM | Philip Patston (Administrator)

    Kia ora koutou katoa.

    Greetings to you all.

    It is my pleasure to present the 2017 EOLC/VES AGM President’s Report.

    It has been a year full of activity – some of it desirable and of our own making, and some of it less welcome but able to be turned to our advantage.

    First however, I wish to thank all the Officers of our Society and the members of the National Committee who have supported me unfailingly over the course of the year. Jack Havill, as Immediate Past President and Carole Sweney as Secretary, have been towers of strength for me and I am very grateful to them for their work and their extensive experience and knowledge. Pete Cowley has been ready at all times as our Treasurer and our Administrator, to ensure that processes have moved efficiently and appropriately and Elizabeth Cronje as our Membership Secretary has kept constant tabs on our membership, including reminding people to renew their membership when it lapses without them knowing.

    Our National Committee members too have been wonderful, constant volunteers who have taken on all kinds of activities from arranging public meetings, to envelope stuffing, fundraising and lobbying MPs – all to further our reach and support our cause. To them I am hugely grateful. Volunteering gets few extrinsic rewards, so I am grateful that they survive on intrinsic ones! I could not have done my work without all of theirs.

    We have seen the constitutional changes of last year’s AGM bear fruit as Mary Panko now steps up into the new position of Vice-President. Thank you for that Mary – I look forward to working with you in that new position. And as a result of a further move at last year’s AGM, we now have a new name for our organisation, achieved after a year of debate, consultation and finally voting. We will be known from now on as the End of Life Choice Society (in brief). Thank you to all who participated in that debate from both sides of the discussion. The result of that vote was 477 in favour of the name change; 42 were opposed. All the thresholds required for the motion to pass were met.

    The activity of our own making to which I referred includes the progress of our petition before the Health Select Committee of Parliament, the organisation of the speaking tour of Professor Jan Bernheim from Belgium and the commissioning of further polling to update our 2012 efforts. These have all had or will have substantial media coverage and public profile, to good advantage.

    The Parliamentary Health Committee opened the petition hearing up to submitters last year, closing to new submissions at the end of March this year. There was an historical record number of submissions – nearly 22,000 in total. While that is an impressive register of public interest, it was never going to be about the numbers at that point of the process. It was always going to be about the quality and uniqueness of the deeply personal stories which were told to the various members of the committee. I want to put on record my heartfelt thanks to all those who steeled themselves to present deeply personal and often distressing accounts of what it means not to have a law permitting aid in dying. Your efforts were outstanding and helped to broadcast the issue into the regions and cities where the committee conducted hearings. At the point of writing, we are still awaiting the report of the Select Committee which I am sure will be delivered before the House rises in August at the end of the Parliamentary year. We await its deliberations and recommendations with a great deal of interest.

    The visit of Prof Jan Bernheim has been a resounding success. He has spoken at public meetings in Tauranga, Hamilton, New Plymouth, Palmerston North, Napier, Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch and today in Auckland. He has also fielded Kim Hill on RadioNZ. Importantly, he has also spoken to medical professionals in large numbers at Palmerston North, Napier and Wellington, which has been of particular benefit to us. His experience of aid in dying embedded within palliative care has been instructive for many and very helpful in refuting some of the baseless opposition of our opponents. He also met with a cross-party group of MPs at Parliament who found the Belgian experience much more persuasive when explained by a Belgian!

    The results of the Horizon polling conducted last month have been gratifying. Support for medically assisted dying in 2012 was 63%. Last month’s poll shows that support, in the case of terminal illness, has risen to 75%. In the additional case of irreversible or unbearable suffering, the level of support is 66%. 72% of the poll supported legally binding Advance Directives in either case (terminal illness or unbearable suffering) where the person has ceased to be mentally competent. Interestingly, in the case of legalising Advance Directives made while competent, for those now suffering from severely advanced dementia, support was recorded at 67%. Some of these results will be made public very shortly.

    I now turn to the activity which we did not precipitate, but which has ended up working in our favour and that is the Police’s efforts in Operation Painter. When a bogus breath-testing stop was erected in Lower Hutt in October last year with the purpose of identifying people coming away from an Exit meeting, some of whom were also members of our society, I immediately lodged a complaint with the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA). I was, by a small margin, beaten to the punch by the Police themselves who realised they needed to engage in damage control for what was both illegal and intimidating behaviour. We then agreed to merge that complaint with one to the Privacy Commissioner and allow them to investigate both complaints together. We are still awaiting that report although I believe it is imminent. The trial of Suzy Austen, a much loved member of ours, will proceed later this year and expose yet again the injustice of the current law. We did however see a marked pick up in memberships happen in October last year, after the Police campaign – between the beginning of October and the end of December last year, we gained 82 new members!

    Finally, just 10 days ago, David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill was unexpectedly drawn from the Parliamentary ballot. This was very good news for us and will make our issue an election issue, but one which we will probably have to wait for the incoming government to include in the Reinstatement motion and the new Parliament to pick up. It is highly likely that 2018 will be our campaign year and the year when we could finally get the kind of law reform we are seeking.

    Our cause has only gained in strength through all of these activities. Thank you for all your constant activism over the last year. I look forward to another active and ultimately successful year next year.



  • 07 Aug 2017 5:05 PM | Philip Patston (Administrator)

    Medical aid in dying (MAID) is going to come and Palliative Care organisations in New Zealand need to start taking their heads out of the sand and join forces in establishing a good integrated system for end-of-life care to benefit terminally ill patients, retired intensive care specialist Dr Jack Havill, of Hamilton, said Monday.

    “After all, 70-80% of New Zealanders want this type of end-of-life choice and patient views should start to take precedence over engrained concepts.”

    Dr Havill, a committee member and former President of the End-of-Life Choice Society, said: “The innate value of life is likely to be enhanced where extensive suffering is avoided.

    “Patients would benefit from synergy and integration between palliative and hospice care and MAID, but this can only occur with a major change in attitudes by some of the palliative care community.”

    Dr Havill was responding to Jane Rollings, chair of the Palliative Care Nurses NZ organisation, who said in a statement Friday that nurses and doctors should not be involved in euthanasia.

    Dr Havill recalled that 40 years ago, health professionals were making it very difficult for palliative care workers, saying they were not needed, and the workers were fighting to establish themselves along with hospices. “That was as a result of professional capture and a good deal of ignorance from the traditional providers of end of life care at that time.

    “Now we are seeing the pattern reproduced and ignoring over 1000 submissions to the health select committee from relatives and friends about horrific deaths, many in hospice environments, leaving them in some cases with enormous regrets and nightmares. Some of those submissions were from experienced palliative care nurses and doctors.”

    Dr Havill said the Palliative Care nurses departed from the more reasonable response of their parent organisation, the New Zealand Nurses Organisation, which favours MAID and wants to make a forthcoming law as good as possible. “A large majority of nurses in NZ support that stance.”

    He said the head-in-sand representatives would not even meet a Belgian expert researcher on the integration of MAID with Palliative Care, Professor Jan Bernheim, who visited New Zealand recently. He spoke about integration in Belgium, the second country to legalise medically assisted dying in 2001. “This is now taking place in Canada and is likely to occur in the Australian state of Victoria, which is expected to pass enlightened legislation this year.”

    Released by David Barber, EOLC media adviser 021-072-8760

  • 03 Aug 2017 9:41 AM | Philip Patston (Administrator)

    The health select committee’s failure to make recommendations after its two-year inquiry into medically-assisted dying was cowardly and a wasted opportunity, Maryan Street, President of the End-of-Life Choice Society, said Thursday.

    She compared its report, tabled on Wednesday, with an inquiry by a similar parliamentary committee in the Australian state of Victoria which made strong recommendations for an enlightened law change as well as improvements to palliative care.

    The Victorian government has adopted the report and is proposing legislation with 68 separate safeguards to protect the elderly and vulnerable – a model the committee could well have followed, she said.

    Maryan Street said the committee had closed its eyes to ample evidence of robust safeguards in medically assisted dying laws in 10 jurisdictions in Europe and North America with a population of more than 110 million.

    She described the report as an essay on views for and against medically assisted dying and demeaning of people, some with terminal illnesses themselves, who had shared personal experiences of friends and family members dying badly.

    Maryan Street said it was known that most of the 80% of submissions opposing a law change were form one-liners and did not reflect the views of three-quarters of New Zealanders shown in scientifically conducted opinion polls to want the ultimate human right of the 21st century – the right to die with dignity.

    She said the committee’s job was not to count the evidence but to weigh it. In this it had failed miserably.

    Maryan Street said that the only comfort was that all this work would not have to be done again by the next Health Select Committee when it deals with ACT leader David Seymour's private member’s bill in the next Parliament.

    “Hopefully that committee will take this evidence as read and move to put in place a good piece of legislation.”

    Contact: Maryan Street 021 977 555

    Released by David Barber, EOLC media adviser 021 072 8760

    Download the full report »

  • 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

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