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Kia ora koutou katoa / Greetings to all.
It was my dream that by this time we would be celebrating the successful final passage of the End of Life Choice Act and that I could stand down as President knowing that we had achieved our goal of making assisted dying legal.
In last year’s report I referred to the significant curved ball which Parliament threw us when they agreed to an extension of time for the Justice Select Committee to do its work of hearing as many as possible of the record number of more than 36,000 submitters all told. I had even reduced my ambition to hoping that we would be celebrating the successful passage of the second reading by now, but that has not happened either.
But it will next Wednesday!
Our patience and our aspirations have both been sorely tested in the last year. We have waited and we have lobbied until we are now at the stage where most MPs have taken the phone off the hook (to use a slightly old-fashioned reference).
We have accepted possible compromises as we have seen David Seymour whittle his bill down, first to a half of my original bill by removing the section on Advance Directives, then by another half to exclude grievous and irremediable, but not terminal, conditions.
We haven’t liked the reductions, but we have understood the arithmetic of Parliament. We have been very focussed on getting the requisite votes over 60 in order to get something of what we want passed, rather than nothing achieved at all.
We have also accepted the delays which will occur by virtue of the introduction of a referendum on the Act (as we hope it will be by then), to occur in conjunction with next year’s General Election.
When I have become dispirited from time to time because of these delays and the effort it takes to sustain a campaign over a long period of time, I think of those who have been faithfully battling over this issue for decades. I think especially of the people who first got me involved in it and who are no longer with us: John Murray, Jean Cartmell, and others like Diana Dombroski. You will all remember others too. They worked far longer at promoting assisted dying than I have. I have no right to feel tired!
We have spent the last year lobbying MPs, writing submissions and presenting them, writing blogs, sustaining websites, composing letters to the Editor of every paper in the country, writing opinion pieces, designing flags, t-shirts and stickers, commissioning polls and releasing them at the optimal time, creating petitions for presentation to the local MP, retweeting articles and links, sharing thoughts and overseas experiences on Facebook, and myriad other efforts.
They WILL work.
At the same time, we have fundraised to sustain all these efforts. We have continued to run a voluntary organisation on the smell of an oily rag. There have been no chauffeur-driven cars or wine storage facilities for us! And certainly no $3m+ salary!
I want to thank our National Committee, including our part-time Administrator Peter Cowley, for their unrelenting efforts. They have been a committed and hardworking group of people.
I wish in particular to thank two people who are leaving the National Committee this year because our constitution says they cannot do any more than 8 years’ service. I think they are probably grateful! They are Dr Jack Havill, our Immediate Past President and Carole Sweney, our Secretary. I owe them everything. They have supported me through the trying times and have always been there to give me the benefit of their hard won experience, I could not have done this job without them.
I also want to acknowledge another who is standing down from her National Committee position this year and that is Elizabeth Cronje, our Membership Secretary. Elizabeth was always of the view that what she did in keeping our membership lists up to date and arranging for people to call those whose memberships had lapsed, was of no significance. Quite the contrary – that is how voluntary organisations stay alive and we are very much alive.
To the others on the Committee – Mary Panko as Vice-President now stepping up to be President, David Barber, our indefatigable Newsletter Editor and media wrangler, Pete Cowley, our constant Treasurer as well as our Administrator, we owe enormous thanks. To our regional representatives – Jim Roskvist in Auckland, Dale Lethbridge in Hamilton, Esther Richards in the Bay of Plenty, Linda Kennington in the legendary Kapiti-Horowhenua branch, now stepping up to become our Vice-President, and Stef McKnight in Wellington, who doubles as our graphic artist and visual manager - to all of you, I am hugely grateful. You have kept the fires burning in the regions and provided the structure, including for “branches” such as Christchurch, Taranaki, Napier and Dunedin, which has made people feel connected in. I welcome the arrival of Helen Cartmell as our new Secretary and Teresa Keedwell as the new Kapiti-Horowhenua representative.
Finally, we will have a few more months of debate to get through. I am confident we will get there, despite the best efforts of our minority opposition. Let’s take it to a referendum and get people out to vote for it. We WILL win!
Every good wish to all of you over the next 12 months – keep up the fight!
MARYAN STREET, President, EOLC Society NZ (Inc.)
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