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OPINION: If by “right to die with dignity” we mean the “right to reject deathbed torture” then yes, I believe we should have that right.
The Health select committee examining the views of Kiwis on assisted dying in 2017 and the Justice select committee that received submissions as part of parliamentary process in 2019 were both presented with multiple stories of horrifying deaths in our country.
In some cases, the dying experience their death as a torture through which they are dragged due to the lack of a merciful legal option to avoid it. Their families are wracked by the suffering of their loved ones.
These submissions came from ordinary people up and down the country – stories from hospices, from hospitals, from rest homes. It appears there is no setting in NZ that is immune from the scourge of suffering death, not even in top class palliative care.
I have suffered such a death in my family. Perhaps you have too?
For that reason, I attentively followed the passage of the End of Life Choice Act 2019 from its introduction in June 2017 through to obtaining Royal Assent in November 2019. It went through all the usual parliamentary processes in the glare of the media. The time allowed for public submissions was extended from the usual three months to nine months. MPs who make our laws also made submissions. In the end, parliament voted 69:51 to pass the End of Life Choice Act 2019 as it is now.
No piece of legislation in the history of the NZ parliament has been through more thorough scrutiny. Parliament has done its job and now hands us back this law for our approval or rejection at the referendum.
To imagine it can now be “changed” is ignorant. The law does not allow any further change at this point. The End of Life Choice Act 2019 will stand or fall exactly as it is on 19 September. It is Yes or No or abstain from voting on this topic. See www.referendums.govt.nz
Parliament has done its work. It has balanced the need of the dying who meet certain additional criteria to legally escape their torment against the desire of all of us to ensure that only that cohort accesses a requested assisted death. Enablement balanced by safety.
Should Kiwis have the right to die with 'dignity'?
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Every year in New Zealand, many death-hastening actions take place without the regulation or oversight that the End of Life Choice Act 2019 would provide. These include decisions by patient or family to switch off life support that will inevitably end in swift death and decisions by patient or family to reject medical interventions to extend terminal life, thereby leading to earlier death. They are perfectly legal decisions. Never do we hear a suggestion of “coercion” or “abuse” in these everyday situations.
Yet they are ripe for exploitation, unregulated as they are. Who protects the patient against such a possibility? One single doctor. No specific regulation governs these decisions or their execution but it seems we, as a society, are perfectly satisfied with this status quo.
It is therefore ridiculous to imagine danger when the additional safeguards of proper regulation and a two-doctor process are added as specified in the Act. In fact, it defies logic.
NZ law should be based on fact, not fanciful conjecture. The fears related to the introduction of medically assisted dying have no basis in fact. They are not observable anywhere in the world where assisted dying is practiced, covering some 200 million people. If our “team of 5 million” votes Yes, then 205 million people will have the right to avoid unwanted deathbed torture.
Make it so.
Ann David is a member of the End of Life Choice Society NZ, whose objective is to have assisted dying legalised in NZ.
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