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Jay Kuten: Religious zealots should not foil a dignified death

25 Nov 2019 12:17 PM | Philip Patston (Administrator)

In the aftermath of the successful passage of the End of Life Choice bill and its progress toward a national referendum, Maggie Barrie, leader of the bill’s  opposition declared, “This means war!” a dramatic and puzzling declaration.

It’s almost axiomatic, that the first casualty of war is the truth. That certainly seems to apply here as the truth about the bill and its aim to provide a legal basis  for medically assisted dying for the terminally ill  has, in my opinion, been pummeled,  sidelined, distorted and ignored by the religious zealots whom I believe Ms. Barry leads and represents.  On that basis, Maggie Barry’s cabal has been at war with the New Zealand public since August 6, 2017, the day that David Seymour introduced the bill to Parliament.

While I am a reluctant warrior, these antics have made it my solemn duty to address their fear-mongering, which only hurts the very people they claim to be concerned about, the elderly and the disabled.        

What makes this “war” so completely reprehensible is that it is unnecessary. What I mean by that is this. Some  opponents of the bill are inspired by their adherence to a religious viewpoint.

That viewpoint would be defensible if it were honestly presented. Then it could be subject to debate.  The argument in its simplest terms is this.  Life is a gift from God that cannot be returned by the  individual,  only taken by God—more like a loan. To interrupt its natural course is a sin, thus an offense against God. Some variation of this same theme is present in the religious teachings of Catholics, Protestants,  Jews, and Moslems. Variations include the Catholic concept of suffering as  virtue  endured as Jesus did on the cross.

 But these opponents have not presented their case forthrightly, which would start with an open acknowledgment of the religious basis of that opposition which—in instances here -- happens to be Catholic. Instead they have, when pressed, denied such adherence and claimed a bogus concern for the possible misuse of such a bill, if enacted will result in some measure of coercion, forcing death involuntarily upon the susceptible,  which they claim are  the aged, the infirm and the disabled.      

 Never mind that the provisions of the bill and its regulatory provisions make such individuals, those primarily with infirmities ineligible. The bill  rests upon the competent, autonomous decision of a person with a terminal illness and a life expectancy of six months. The wish for assisted dying must be initiated by the patient, and, while she may be encouraged to discuss this with family and others, the continuing emphasis is on the individual whose consent to the process must be clearly established and be continuous. An eligible person can change their mind at any time before the final acceptance of a lethal prescription.

The EOLC  bill is, as its name suggests, about choice. And choice about the time of one’s death and the means for bringing that death about, surrounded as one might wish, by loved ones, and aided by a trusted conscientious medical person, brings a great deal of relief to a terminally ill person who, otherwise, faces the likelihood of a painful ending and an anxiety about the loss of autonomy and of the dignity of ultimate control.  

That ultimate empowerment of a terminally ill person recognises a right of an individual to the free exercise of their own judgment about the time and manner of their death, a right consistent with the freedoms granted to those citizens and residents responsible for their own lives.

It’s obvious this view is different than the religiously inspired one.  In a democratic society, religious freedom means that religious practice deserves respect and protection but no religion can be permitted to impose its views on those who believe otherwise. In terms of the autonomy and dignity of dying, such imposition of religion determining the manner of death for the non-religious, would be the ultimate coercion.

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