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We often do death badly. We needn't.

21 Sep 2020 9:48 AM | Philip Patston (Administrator)

Source: Southland Times

Euthanasia referendum: New Zealanders will vote on the End of Life Choice Act during the general election.

OPINION: What is the value of suffering and to whom is it of value?

Euthanasia referendum: New Zealanders will vote on the End of Life Choice Act during the general election.

What can you do when you have just had enough?

Who else’s business is this anyway?

These are the questions to be pondered in the upcoming referendum on euthanasia.

I am now 78. I graduated from Otago University in 1965 and have spent my working life in family medicine. I have attended well over a thousand births and many deaths as a family doctor.

In addition, I have been a DHB elected member in Nelson-Marlborough for 12 years and worked with councils and community and sporting organisations.

I have had simple heart surgery and have prostate cancer. Not surprising at all at my age.

Dr John Moore.


Dr John Moore.

Death to me is expected and well prepared for – I have done my best in this regard. Life remains busy, active and lots of fun.

In our lives there is only one certainty. Life will end.

This fact is often not acknowledged in family conversations; indeed, the reverse is often the case and a culture of denial is fostered.

Death becomes a failure of treatment or somehow avoidable.

This unspeakability extends to the person doing the dying and often those giving professional advice. As a result, death becomes greatly feared instead of normalised.

The fear makes avoidance of the subject even worse.

Sadly, because of this, it is far from uncommon to find that families argue over treatment options for a parent who is unable to express their own wishes. Enduring emotional conflicts between siblings can result.

I guess I am just saying that we often do death badly in this country.

There can be poor communication, needless suffering and often much futile and expensive treatment. Families must be open to listening to personal wishes and expectations.

To live well and die well seems a reasonable aim for existence

In NZ now we have a facility called Advance Care Planning which is a tool for leading discussion and individual decisions around dying and very serious illness. We have excellent hospices and palliative care systems too.

What we lack is the ability to make our own choice about when we have just had enough and want to go.

We can be obstructed by others who believe that they know what is best for us.

(The law at present allows us to suicide alone and unassisted – anyone present is criminally liable – but not to die by choice with care, dignity and with those we love around us.)

I always come back to this point: who else should have the right to impose their beliefs on my decision?

The End of Life Choice Act gives you and me some choice in the matter. Though still quite constrained, it is a step towards personal choice.

Studies overseas consistently show that what most people want is the right to say enough. They want control.

Knowing that this right of control exists provides much comfort whether it is used or not.

Those who feel duty bound to endure and suffer to the very end already have that right.

My life is my story and I should be allowed to write it myself. The same goes for you.

Dr John Moore was the first GP in Te Anau, 1968-1976, a leading figure in the Save Manapouri campaign and one of the original Guardians of Lakes Manapouri, Monowai and Te Anau. He now lives in Nelson.


  • 21 Sep 2020 10:15 PM | Anonymous
    It's good to know some doctors are progressive in their thinking and that they respect patient autonomy. I find it pretty unbelievable to think that I can make my own decisions to reject treatment, blood transfusions, life support even in a non-terminal situation . . . but as soon as I'm terminal, the law deems me unfit to make by own decisions and instead forces me to let others decide for me. Thank you Dr John Moore.
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