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Press Release: The Nation
On Newshub Nation: Simon Shepherd interviews Canadian euthanasia practitioner Dr Stefanie Green.
The euthanasia debate is progressing, with the End of Life Choice Bill expected to have its second reading in Parliament on Wednesday. A similar bill was passed in Canada in 2016 - and it's estimated about 8000 people have had a medically assisted death there. Dr Stefanie Green is President of the Canadian association of doctors and nurses who provide euthanasia services.
Dr Stefanie Green: Thanks for having me.
First of all, you’re a doctor, so how do you reconcile pro-euthanasia views with the spirit of being a doctor?
I think it’s absolutely consistent. No matter what we say at our medical school interviews, most of us go into medicine to help people, and this is another form of helping people at a really vulnerable and terrible time in their lives.
So what do you say to the New Zealand Medical Association’s stance that they say euthanasia in any form is unethical?
I think that’s naïve, to be perfectly honest. I think that when someone is suffering intolerably at the end of their life and we have a legalised medical service that allows for us to help them in that moment. When a competent adult asks me to help them, I feel like I’m helping them by doing that.
And you have done that roughly 150 times, you personally have been involved in medically assisted death, or MAID, as you call it, in Canada, haven’t you?
Yes, I’ve had the privilege of helping 150 people end their life.
Is it a privilege, is it?
Oh, it’s a sincere privilege. It’s a very intimate time for someone. It’s a privilege to witness them through that journey, to support them through that journey, to offer them a care that they’re desperate for and to be able to grant them that and to help them do it in a very comfortable way, it’s a huge privilege.
Does this normalise the process? Does it normalise the idea of assisted suicide?
I don’t think ‘normalises’ is the right word. I think accepting it as another form of care at the end of life, as another end-of-life care option. There are many, and it is only one, and only 1.5 per cent of all Canadians’ deaths are chosen to be in this way. It’s a very small number still, but I think it’s important.
Let’s talk about your experience. In the people that you have assisted, has it always been peaceful?
In the people that I have assisted, it’s always been peaceful. Absolutely, because it’s a controlled procedure that I am there to make peaceful.
And how long does it take?
Well, the majority of assisted deaths in Canada are actually by clinician administered medication, which is what I’m doing. And so, technically, from the initial administration to the end of the procedure and the end of heartbeat, it’s, on average, about 10 minutes.
Most of it is clinician assisted. Do people actually self-medicate?
There is the option in Canada legally to self-medicate. We’ve had very very few – I’d say probably under 20 cases in 8000. I’ve been involved in one. It takes a little bit longer. It’s also peaceful, but it’s a different process.
Because there is that concern here that it doesn’t always go according to plan and that the death is not peaceful. Have you come across this at all?
I have actually not come across that at all. The protocols in Canada we use are based on the Dutch protocols. They’re very very effective. We lobbied very hard with my group CAMAP to have the proper medications available so that we could have a lesser time to dying and a more comfortable experience, and so it’s been good.
Okay. Why shouldn’t high quality palliative care be the answer to people who are at the end of their life?
High quality palliative care is essential. I think that we need to lobby for that. I’m all in favour of that. I’m very lucky where I live my work is very well integrated with palliative care teams. It’s essential for our patients to have that. But we all know that palliative care cannot address every single event, and there are patients that suffer at the end that palliative care cannot help.
Right, so it’s true that palliative care cannot ease every point of suffering.
Of course not.
Every palliative care doctor will tell you that, and if they don’t say so, they’re being disingenuous.
At what point do you say you can’t help someone? If someone comes to you and they have very poor quality of life, but it’s not an irreversible disease or symptom, what do you say to them?
That’s probably the hardest thing of what I do. We have very strict eligibility criteria in Canada that must be rigorously found to be true, and if somebody comes to me suffering at the end of their life with a chronic disease or a chronic pain that they’ve had for many years but they don’t meet all of our criteria, I can’t help them. That doesn’t mean they’re not suffering. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to, but I have to work within the law and so I need to explain to them that I believe what’s happening to them is horrible, but I’m not legally allowed to help them, and I have to help them try and find other resources.
You’re the president of the Association of the Doctors and Nurses that help provide these services. Do your members need counselling?
We offer support systems to our members. There’s a number of different regional resiliency programmes. We do find, though, and early Canadian data is showing a little bit to our surprise that the attitudes and experiences of people providing this care has actually been fairly positive. People find this work incredibly rewarding. Patients are incredibly grateful for the care, and most people actually don’t need that support. It is available for them. We encourage a lot of self-care, a lot of support within collegial groups, and we have a national group where we’re in touch with each other all the time to support each other, which is essential, but it’s been well absorbed.
Because the New Zealand Medical Association here has a stance against euthanasia, I mean, did this issue at the time of debate when it’s coming through drive a wedge through the medical profession?
I don’t think so. I think that the Canadian Medical Association has had a neutral opinion about this in an effort to support all 85,000 members of our association, because there is, obviously, a wide variety, but I don’t think there was a wedge. I think there was a bit of a fear at the beginning. A lot of physicians didn’t understand what this was or how to do it. A little bit scared to step into that space. The very few who did step forward banded together very quickly in our organisation, and we’ve built a really strong network of support for each other. So I don’t think ‘wedge’ is the right word.
It’s three years on. No law is perfect, I guess. Do you believe that Canada’s law could work better?
Actually, I have to say that Canada’s law is working really really well. There’s obviously people on both sides of the debate saying it’s not liberal enough or it’s already too restrictive. There’s lots of debate. But it’s quite rigorous. The eligibility criteria have stood for three years. There’s no rollback, there’s no location locally, provincially or nationally looking to expand that. It’s holding well. I think that there’s a number of safeguards in place that are holding, and I think there’s absolutely no evidence of any sort of misuse. There’s been no charge of any clinician.
Okay, so you say that the safeguards are in place. In particular, what are the safeguards that you support that are in place?
There’s a number of safeguards in place. Whether I support them or not we could talk about another day. But a patient needs to give consent both previously when they have a written consent. They actually need to give consent at the moment of the death. So it has to be the patient themselves. There’s a 10-day waiting period reflective to think about their decision, to discuss it with family and have other opinions involved. There’s lots of safeguards. There’s many more.
You talked before about the legislation being reasonably stable, but there is debate in Canada at the moment about whether to increase it, and there have been reports on whether mature minors should be accessible.
I’m really glad you asked me. This is a misrepresentation of the facts of Canada. There is absolutely, in no jurisdiction in Canada, any current move to expand our eligibility criteria. Let me make that very very clear. Including mature minors. So if you just give me exactly 30 seconds, it used to be that there was a blanket ban on assisted dying in Canada. The highest court in our country carved out an exception where that could be legalised, and then the government legislated a law which is more restrictive than that, which is our current law for MAID in Canada. There is current debate. There are two court challenges challenging the restricted law to put it back to the High Court’s definition of criteria, and whether that does or doesn’t happen, it was yet to be seen. But other than that, there’s no expansion of any criteria. The issue of immature minors, which has been raised in your media, is an issue which has been discussed well before our law, during the law, and currently there’s a group of academics that have written a report about the issue of whether… Actually, the report is a collection of international data about the issue of mature minors and euthanasia. It makes no recommendation to government, and there’s no government anywhere considering expanding our law to include mature minors at this time.
So you believe that this has been misrepresented by anti-euthanasia advocates over here?
Okay. What about our law? Have you had any experience or have you looked at our law and do you see any problems with it, our proposed law?
I’m not going to comment on the New Zealand legislation that’s been proposed. I think that there is a lot of similarities, from what I’ve read, to the Canadian law. There’s also some significant differences – most significantly, I believe that there’s going to be a move towards making it restricted to terminal illness with the prognosis of six months. It’s very very different to Canada.
In Canada, it’s what?
In Canada, one of the criteria is that the natural death of the patient must be in what’s called the reasonably foreseeable future. And that is a bit of a vague term that required some time to get used to interpreting. We now have a better idea, but there’s nowhere about terminal illness or a particular time.
Would it make it easier for you if you had those kinds of restrictions that are proposed here?
No, I don’t think so. I think that would be… I think the idea of terminal illness in six months is very very restrictive and really cuts out a significant group of people that are suffering intolerably.
And those kinds of prognoses are often wrong, aren’t they?
They are. We’re not very good at that.
Okay. What about a couple of other issues that get raised here. What about the issue of coercion, that somebody is vulnerable and in a vulnerable state and they don’t want to be a burden to their family and are coerced into electing this? Have you seen that?
I actually haven’t seen that at all. I think it’s a bit condescending to people to tell them that they can’t make up their own mind. It’s part of my job to ensure that there is no coercion – both external or obvious coercion or even subtle coercion. And I always speak to patients privately and alone and have a conversation with them. I take that very very seriously. But every physician every day in their practice talks to patients about capacity and consent and coercion. They don’t use those words, but that’s exactly what they’re doing. So when people tell me that I’m challenged to do that properly, I think that’s a little bit insulting, and I certainly do know how to do my job.
Okay, and one last question. So since it’s been in place, about 8000 people up to the end of last year have taken advantage of this legislation. Has there been an increase, a jump in numbers as they years have gone past? You’re talking about 1.5 per cent of the deaths in Canada being assisted. Is that a jump? Has it been going up?
Well, it’s been going up because basically to use kind of a vulgar analogy, there’s a new product in town. It takes time for people to understand it’s available, it’s legal and it’s available in their place and how to access it, so of course the numbers are going to increase slowly over the first couple of years. This is exactly what happened in Europe. The numbers are exactly what we expected in the first couple of years. It’s still very little. It’s still about a third of what’s happening in the Netherlands. I do expect we’re going to see an increase still in Canada. I don’t think we’ve plateaued yet, but we’re getting there.
Okay. Dr Stefanie Green, thank you very much for your time this morning.
Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz
Watch on Newshub »
© Scoop Media
Today marks the coming into effect of Victoria’s Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017. From today, Victorians at the end of a terminal illness who meet strict eligibility criteria will be able to access assistance to die.
The End-of-Life Choice Society in New Zealand congratulates the state of Victoria for arriving at the culmination of its process with this legislation.
“Victoria is the first state in Australia to reach this point, but other states look as if they are following,” said Maryan Street, President of the New Zealand End-of-Life Choice Society.
“Their MPs have gone through a very similar lengthy process to ours, with a select committee producing a very good report which recommended the passage of their law, with its 68 safeguards.
“In a week, our MPs will have a chance to vote on the second reading of David Seymour’s End of Life Choice bill. Let’s hope they recognise the 74% of New Zealanders who support or strongly support a law similar to Victoria’s.
“All we want is the choice, when we are in the end stages of a terminal illness, to die on our own terms under lawful and regulated conditions. We don’t prescribe it for everyone – we just want people to have the choice if they meet certain criteria.
“Laws like this can work well and are doing so around the world, including now, in Victoria,” said Maryan Street.
AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine legalized medically assisted suicide on Wednesday, becoming the eighth state to allow terminally ill people to end their lives with prescribed medication.
Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, who had previously said she was unsure about the bill, signed it in her office.
“It is my hope that this law, while respecting the right to personal liberty, will be used sparingly,” said Mills.
Oregon was the first state to legalize such assistance, in 1997, and it took over a decade for the next state, Washington, to follow suit. While still controversial, assisted suicide legislation is winning increasing acceptance in the United States, and this year at least 18 states considered such measures.
Maine’s measure will allow doctors to prescribe a fatal dose of medication to terminally ill people. It declares that obtaining or administering life-ending medication is not suicide under state law, thereby legalizing the practice often called medically assisted suicide.
The proposal had failed once in a statewide referendum and at least seven previous times in the Legislature. The current measure passed by just one vote in the House and a slim margin in the Senate.
The signing Wednesday was a relief to Mainers such as Staci Fowler, 47, who’s taken on the fight for such laws in honor of her late friend Rebecca VanWormer.
VanWormer, whose breast cancer spread to her bones, had pushed for such a bill in 2015 — two years before she died in 2017.
“This is what she wanted,” said Fowler, an educational consultant in Gardiner. “And now everybody has the option that she didn’t have.”
Maine joins seven other states and Washington, D.C., that have similar laws, according to the Death With Dignity National Center and the Death With Dignity Political Fund. The states are: California, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and New Jersey, whose governor signed the legislation earlier this year.
Montana doesn’t have a specific law on the books, but the state Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that doctors could use a patient’s request for life-ending medication as a defense against criminal charges.
Maine’s population has the oldest median age, and, as in other states, the proposal has exposed divisions that defied party lines.
Supporters, including Democrats and a small group of Republicans who say the legislation is in line with the rugged state’s tradition of individualism, say the terminally ill should have the right to choose how their lives end.
The governor said she believes the law should protect such rights, while also spelling out protections for those “unable to articulate their informed choices.”
She issued an executive order Wednesday calling for the state to swiftly put the law’s protections into place and analyze the law’s impact.
Opponents, meanwhile, have said any assisted suicide legislation puts the terminally ill and individuals with disabilities in danger of abuse, coercion and mistakes. Such groups argue that doctors can be wrong and that government is devaluing life by “turning suicide into a medical option.”
“Do you think the insurance companies will do the right thing or the cheap thing?” said Teresa McCann-Tumidajski, executive director of the Maine Right to Life Committee. “The so-called safeguards are there for the physicians, insurance carriers and lawyers. Not the patient.”
As more states slowly pass similar laws, critics nationwide argue that government should simply never wade into such issues.
“Assisted suicide is a dangerous public policy that puts the most vulnerable people in society at risk for abuse, coercion and mistakes,” said Matt Valliere, Executive Director of Patients Rights Action Fund, an advocacy group. “It also provides profit-driven insurance companies perverse incentives to offer a quick death, rather than costly continuing quality care.”
The law’s Democratic sponsor said the latest language addresses criticism of past efforts that have failed in Maine.
The legislation defines “terminal disease” as one that is incurable and will likely end in death within six months.
The law requires a second opinion by a consulting physician, along with one written and two verbal requests. Physicians would screen patients for conditions that could impair judgment, such as depression.
The law criminalizes coercing someone into requesting life-ending medication, as well as forging a request for life-ending medication.
By MARINA VILLENEUVEJune 13, 2019, AP news USA
Dr Rodney Syme, a longtime advocate for euthanasia, is being appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for his significant service to social welfare initiatives and law reform.
Dr Syme has been vice-president of Dying with Dignity Victoria since 2007, served as the organisation's president from 1996 to 2007, and prior to that he was the president of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society of Victoria. He played an important role in the Victoria's Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) Act 2017 that will go into effect on the 19th of June 2019.
Syme has also been a member and a past board member of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies. The former head of the Austin Repatriation Medical Centre's urology unit is the chair of Your Last Right, which campaigns for law reform on voluntary euthanasia in Australia.
Source: Death with Dignity
Governor Janet Mills today signed the Maine Death with Dignity Act into law.
With the Governor’s signature, Maine became the 9th jurisdiction to allow people with a terminal illness to die the way they want: without suffering, in peace, and with dignity. Nearly 70 million Americans now live in a state with an assisted dying option.
This victory would not be possible without Val Lovelace, the truly fearless leader of Maine Death with Dignity. Her tireless work with legislators, volunteers, and the media; her testimonies, community presentations, and sleepless nights; and her perseverance above all made the difference.
Val said, “I applaud Governor Mills for signing the Death with Dignity Act into law. I am so proud and grateful to finally be heard by our lawmakers and our Governor on this issue. This is an exceptionally historic day for Maine.”
The Maine Death with Dignity Act was introduced in the legislature earlier this year as LD 1313 by Representative Patricia Hymanson (D-York), a retired neurologist, with bi-partisan co-sponsorship from both chambers. This was the third session with a similar bill. The bill passed in the House by 73 to 72 and in the Senate by 19 to 16 earlier this month.
A parallel effort Maine Death with Dignity initiated in May 2018 gathered over 72,000 valid signatures and would have taken the question to ballot in 2020 had LD 1313 failed.
As we celebrate this momentous day, we also think of Mainers like Eva Thompson and Rebecca VanWormer who advocated for death with dignity until their final days and died fighting for their right to die on their own terms. It is in their honor that we will always remember this day.
Val Lovelace (left) with Eva Thompson after a legislative Committee hearing in April 2017
And it was the Mainers’ and others’ generous contributions, letters and phone calls to legislators, Facebook posts and tweets, signatures on the ballot initiative petition, conversations with loved ones, crossed fingers as we waited for this day in Maine, and more that got us here.
From Maine to California, Washington state to Washington, D.C., Hawaii to Vermont, together we are making progress in bringing death with dignity to all Americans who want the freedom to make their own end-of-life decisions. Thank you for being part of history.
“The Death with Dignity Act is an important step toward providing Maine residents with the autonomy, freedom, and peace of mind that has been a godsend to dying patients in other states,” Val said.. “It’s past time for that here. I look forward to continuing public education and advocacy efforts in Maine. It’s important for people to have correct information about how the law works and who is eligible to qualify.
Like the Oregon law it is based on, the Maine Death with Dignity Act allows qualifying terminally ill adult state residents to receive prescription medication to end their lives in a peaceful and dignified manner. The patient must be competent and deemed by two physicians to be within 6 months of death, the same standard as hospice, and capable of taking the medications themselves. The process entails two oral and one written request witnessed by two people and a lengthy waiting period.
In over 40 years of combined flawless implementation in Oregon, Washington, Vermont, California, Colorado, D.C., the death with dignity option has been used sparingly. In Oregon, fewer than 4 in 1,000 deaths in the state are under the law. A third of those who successfully obtain a prescription opt not to use it.
“Oregon’s pioneering law was carefully implemented and has been working exactly as intended for over two decades,” added Peg Sandeen, our Executive Director. “It is past time for states like Maine to adopt death with dignity.”
Families across the country who have felt the devastating effects of the blanket ban on assisted dying have come together today (Tuesday 21 May 2019) to launch a new campaign calling for a change in the law.
‘Acts of Love’ is led by Ann Whaley, who was interviewed under caution earlier this year after police were anonymously notified of her plan to accompany her terminally ill husband Geoffrey to Dignitas. Ann is due to meet with the Secretary of State for Justice, David Gauke, next month, whose support for a change in the law was recently revealed (Sunday Express, 19 May 2019). Ann will be urging Mr Gauke to look at the dreadful consequences that the current law on assisted dying is causing for families like hers.
The campaign, comprised of over 30 relatives and friends from across the country, launches as Lord Sumption’s first Reith lecture is broadcast on BBC Radio 4 today. At its recording, Ann asked the former Supreme Court judge for his views on the current law, to which he replied “I think that the law should continue to criminalise assisted suicide, and I think that the law should be broken from time to time… That is an untidy compromise few lawyers would adopt but I don’t believe there’s a moral obligation to obey the law. Ultimately it’s for each person to decide.”
On Thursday, Baroness Molly Meacher, Chair of Dignity in Dying, will be pressing the Minister to accept that when a former Supreme Court Judge suggests that families of dying relatives should break the law, that law is itself broken and needs reform. She will ask what plans the Government has to prepare for legislative change on assisted dying.
Ann has written an open letter to all MPs urging them to listen to the Reith lecture broadcast and to support Acts of Love. Ann said:
“Lord Sumption’s comments show complete unawareness of the reality faced by families like mine. We were fortunate enough to have the money to help Geoffrey get his final wish to die on his own terms, but many in this country are not so lucky. We also had to say goodbye before we were ready as Geoffrey feared he was losing the strength to travel. When the police got involved, our world fell apart. I was made to feel like a criminal for acting out of love and this has spurred me on to launch this campaign with Dignity in Dying.
“I am delighted that David Gauke has agreed to meet me to discuss these issues and I am encouraged by his support for my family’s plight. Compassion is not a crime and the current law cannot be allowed to continue as it is – that is my message to him and to all MPs.”
Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, said:
“The families behind Acts of Love have all felt the effects of the UK’s cruel and outdated law on assisted dying. Some, like Ann, have been criminalised for acting out of love for a terminally ill relative after the blanket ban on assisted dying forced them to take the law into their own hands. Others did not have the funds or means to act, and instead watched helplessly as a loved one suffered a traumatic death at home or took drastic steps to end their own life. Families should not be put in this agonising position.
“Over 100 million people around the world are covered by laws that take this dilemma out of the hands of loved ones and instead provide dying citizens with choice and compassion alongside robust protection for the rest of society. It is high time the UK followed suit. We are calling on the Justice Secretary to look into the suffering caused by the blanket ban on assisted dying in this country. Until change comes, acts of love will continue to be criminalised and compassion will be punished. If we really care about our dying citizens and their families, there is only one thing to do: fix this broken law.”
by Maryan Street, EOLC President
As MPs cast their vote on the End of Life Choice Bill this month, a fresh Horizon Research poll confirms consistent surveys showing that fewer than one-in-five voters oppose a law change. 74% support end of life choice and only 19 % oppose it.
The research commissioned only last month, clearly reinforces the evidence that a majority of New Zealanders want to allow doctors to help the terminally ill to die painlessly and with dignity.
I am urging our supporters to keep up their efforts to bring these findings to the attention of MPs.
There is evidence some MPs may have been persuaded by the orchestrated numbers making select committee submissions and it is clear that emails opposing the bill have been unrelenting. Clearly this promulgation is far from representative of a strong public sentiment, as shown in yet another poll.
I hope that those MPs who are tending to oppose the bill, will vote for its second reading so that they can hand the final decision to the people in a referendum.
This important issue is very much alive and MPs need to represent the collective will of the people, for the sake of an electorate that consistently supports change, in order to give people the choice to die with dignity.
If David Seymour’s assisted dying bill gets knocked out in Parliament, hopes of a referendum at the 2020 election die with it, writes Graham Adams.
Graham Adams | Guest writer | The Spinoff
We will soon find out — probably in the next six weeks — which of our MPs believe in participatory democracy and which don’t.
The vote on the second reading of the End of Life Choice Bill had been predicted to take place on May 22 but that now looks unlikely. As David Seymour himself told me: “There are enough bills ahead of us to fill up the May 22 session. That puts us back to either June 19 or June 26, depending on the Budget.”
The result is awaited with bated breath by supporters and opponents, but a delay of a few weeks is insignificant after the tactics mounted by those keen to thwart the bill’s progress. Chief among these was the justice select committee’s extraordinary decision — apparently instigated by assisted dying’s arch-opponent Maggie Barry — to hear everyone who wanted to make an oral submission.
Predictably, the result of this filibuster was that most of the 1350 oral submitters didn’t offer insights that weren’t already in their written submissions but it did successfully keep the committee tied up for several months.
A huge majority of the submissions were against the bill, but the negative publicity emanating from the hearings hasn’t fazed those who were asked their opinion in a Horizon Research poll, published in early May.
It found 74% of New Zealanders believe that if you are mentally competent, and aged 18 or over with an end-stage terminal disease, you should be able to get medical assistance to end your life. Just 19% were opposed.
So after what is now several years of dedicated scaremongering by opponents — including Maggie Barry calling the End of Life Choice Bill a “licence to kill” and Bill English claiming that people will be put “on the euthanasia conveyor belt” — an overwhelming majority of voters still want the right to shave a few days or weeks off the end of their lives if they are terminally ill.
And, as David Seymour noted, these poll results “are consistent with over 20 years of public polls on assisted dying in New Zealand conducted time and time again by reputable polling companies”.
It is clear that most New Zealanders want some form of assisted dying to be legalised. Unfortunately, many supporters also believe they don’t have to pay too much attention to which way their MPs will vote at a second reading because they will be able to have their say in a referendum scheduled at the next election.
But that’s simply not true. At the moment, there is no referendum officially scheduled or guaranteed. In fact, if the End of Life Choice Bill is defeated in the House at its second or third readings, that’s the end of the process.
ACT LEADER DAVID SEYMOUR. PHOTO BY HAGEN HOPKINS/GETTY IMAGES
As David Seymour told me when asked whether there was a fallback provision for a referendum even if his bill failed: “Sadly all three votes [in Parliament] are sudden death. If we don’t get a majority at second reading, it’s all over.”
Winston Peters has made a referendum a condition of his party’s continued support for the passage of the bill and consequently Seymour has suggested amending it to include that requirement (as well as narrowing its eligibility criteria to apply only to the terminally ill to satisfy the Greens and other MPs who want narrower access).
NZ First MP Shane Jones made his party’s case for putting it to the people clearly and cogently on TVNZ’s Breakfast show in April. He said that he was brought up as an Anglican — even if he’s “not a very good one” — and implied that he personally found the topic of assisted dying uncomfortable as “a tapu sort of subject”. Nevertheless, he, and NZ First, believe that “temporary occupants in Parliament should hand it over to all New Zealanders who should decide”.
But this, of course, only comes into play if Seymour gets 61 votes to push his bill over the line at both its second and third readings.
At the End of Life Choice Bill’s first reading in December 2017, a big majority of MPs — 76-44 — voted to send it to the justice select committee. It was understood then that some MPs voted in favour simply to give the committee the chance to assess it, without making any commitment to further support it at later readings.
But, in April, the select committee recommended only technical changes and passed its responsibilities back to the Committee of the Whole House.
So it’s hard to see why any MP who thought it was a good idea for a select committee to review the bill at the first reading wouldn’t vote for it again at a second reading because it is the same bill being presented.
Seymour agrees with that logic but says: “However, some MPs will, of course, say, ‘Well, the changes didn’t happen at select committee so why should I hang out until the Committee of the Whole House?’”
It’s obviously going to be complicated and time-consuming as MPs do the detailed work in refining the bill that the select committee would normally be expected to have done and some antagonists are using that prospect as a reason to kill the bill as early as possible.
DefendNZ has suggested its followers contact MPs to warn them there will be lengthy debates over amendments and to “expect the conversations to get longer and much more intense… Should the bill pass its second reading, the Committee of the Whole House stage will likely be extremely lengthy, as dozens of MPs try to fix the bill.”
It’s hard to read this any other way than asking MPs: “Why not guarantee yourself an easier life by simply voting it down at the second reading?”
However, it would be outrageous if the 15 months of work that select committee MPs have put into the bill so far — including hearing oral submissions from 1350 individuals and organisations at 42 public hearings in 14 cities and towns across the country — was simply ignored for expediency’s sake.
If anything is on a conveyor belt, it should be this bill’s progress to a referendum, given the overwhelming public support for it.
Opponents, however, are very keen to prevent the bill going to a referendum despite crowing for months that 90.2 per cent of the 38,707 submissions to the Justice select committee were opposed.
But they don’t seem to really believe their own claim because if 90% of the population were, indeed, opposed, you’d imagine they would be very happy for the question to be swamped by a tsunami of hostility at the ballot box and thus settle the matter for a long time
They’d be happy for MPs to pass the End of Life Choice Bill through its next readings, completely secure in the knowledge the public would then dismiss it out of hand.
The quasi-religious Care Alliance was quick to produce press releases asserting the submissions showed almost the entire country was against David Seymour’s bill, but they wouldn’t respond to my repeated question of whether their organisation supported an actual referendum.
The alliance’s secretary, Dr Peter Thirkell, was more forthcoming a year ago when I put that question to him — presumably because at that point a referendum was a more remote possibility. He said then that he believed “an issue as complex and fraught as euthanasia and assisted suicide does not lend itself well to a single-question referendum”.
At the same time, Catholic lobby group Right to Life made its contempt for voters even more obvious in a press release. “The issue of euthanasia is simply too complex to be put to a public vote… Right to Life does not think this is a matter that should be decided by individuals within the community.”
It added: “We also are concerned that should the result of the referendum support euthanasia, this will impose pressure on the conscience of those members of Parliament who are opposed to it, and who want to protect the community.”
In April this year, Renee Joubert, from Euthanasia-Free NZ, replied to my question on Facebook with a similar rationale. “The problem with a referendum is that the euthanasia issue is very complex and nuanced, as demonstrated by the submissions on the bill. There are multiple options for each eligibility criterion and proposed safeguard. There are wider implications and unintended consequences to consider. The issue doesn’t really lend itself to a yes/no question.”
It’s impossible not to conclude that opponents of David Seymour’s bill believe New Zealanders must have become much less intellectually capable since 1992, when a non-binding referendum was held to decide whether First Past the Post should be replaced by a more proportional voting system. Voters had to say, first, whether they wanted to replace FPP and, then, which of four alternative systems should be adopted — Preferential Voting; Mixed Member Proportional; Supplementary Member; or Single Transferable Vote.
An official information campaign conducted before the referendum meant that voters had plenty of information to help make a decision and, unsurprisingly, they handled these complex choices without fuss.
No one could plausibly argue in 2019 that voters haven’t had the chance to thoroughly acquaint themselves with the details and concepts involved in legalising assisted dying. The debate has been raging in public for years, and particularly since 2015 when Lecretia Seales — terminally ill with brain cancer — took a case to the High Court asking that her doctor should not be prosecuted under the Crimes Act in assisting her die with her consent.
If MPs genuinely care about democracy in action, they’ll vote for Seymour’s bill to ensure the nation’s voters have the right to decide for themselves in a referendum.
I guess we’ll find out soon enough who among our representatives believes in direct democracy and who doesn’t.
by Revd Canon Rosie Harper UK | Christians Supporting Choice for Voluntary Euthanasia
“Don’t tell me that the time of someone’s death is purely God’s business. That at the moment when all a human soul wants is for it to end, God stands at the end of the bed and says: ‘No my child, it is my will that you suffer just a few more days.’”………
It’s the beginning of a new year and the script is that we talk about hope. It was a challenging 2017 but things will be OK. New opportunities, fresh blessings, more love and more joy.
So why am I wanting to talk about death? Well, it’s personal and also professional.
It’s personal because I have just booked flights back to Switzerland to go to the funeral of my much loved uncle Albin. He died two days before Christmas, aged 82, gently and peacefully with his family around him. About six years ago his younger brother Otto also died peacefully with his family around him. The difference was that Albin died of old age and dementia, Otto died of a nasty aggressive brain tumour. Albin died ‘naturally’. Otto, being Swiss, was able to request and receive the help he needed to die in a dignified and pain-free peaceful way. This merciful intervention in no way changed the fact of his death, and even now the sorrow is hard to bear, but it did cut short the last bitter agonies of the manner of his dying.
It is professional because in the parish where I work there are a lot of funerals. Mostly the bereaved tell me of the immense kindness of all around; family and friends, doctors and nurses. They tell of the shock of sudden unexpected death and also the oblique conversations about the use of morphine. They also sometimes tell me of bad deaths. Deaths where there is no way of giving the dying person their final wish: ‘Please, dear God, please help me to die.’
Don’t tell me that the time of someone’s death is purely God’s business. That at the moment when all a human soul wants is for it to end, God stands at the end of the bed and says: ‘No my child, it is my will that you suffer just a few more days.’
That is pure fatalism and superstition. Even people who would use language such as ‘God has a plan for your life’ don’t actually mean that everything that happens to them from birth to death is controlled. Of course not. We rejoice in our free will, even in the knowledge that we risk misusing it. That’s part of the deal. Our conception is a risk. We may be born to loving parents, or our mother might have been kidnapped and raped. The will of God? Throughout our lives we make choices and many of them are life and death choices. To smoke or drink or over-eat. To enjoy extreme sports, to ride a motorbike. For all those things we choose and we also take responsibility.
When our lives are nearing the end there are now many societies where that degree of both choice and responsibility remains. That is not the case in the UK.
Just when you might think we need our freedom the most, the medical profession, by law, takes it away from us. Just when you might think that God would most honour the freedom he has given us, the Christian community takes it away from us.
I’m with Hans Küng. If the time comes, and it is necessary for me, I would find it a fulfilment of my life of faith to be able to say to God: ‘Loving Father, I thank you for the most wonderful gift of life. The burden of it is now too much for me to bear and so with every ounce of love and gratitude I can muster I give it back to you.’
Rev Canon Rosie Harper is chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham and a member of the Church of England’s General Synod.
Richard Simpson, pictured at home in his Christchurch garden.
OPINION: As a 47-year-old man, married for 20-something years, two wonderful daughters, running a successful business, the last thing I expected was to be told I had terminal cancer.
It snuck up on me, hiding behind fatigue that I thought was due to working too hard. As a cyclist and runner, I was used to battling fatigue but this was different. More and more often, I found myself on the nod (the advantage of working at home) but stubbornly went about carving away at my business.
It was the cough that took me to the doctors. Four weeks of a cough that went nowhere, did nothing and generally made me grumpy. I went to the doctor, had a blood test, went back for more blood tests and then an ultrasound. There were rumblings in the room that something was not right. One week later and I was in A&E with a painful and swollen leg with the diagnosis of a huge blood clot in my leg and multiple pulmonary embolisms (clots) in my lungs. Then came the good stuff: a tumour on the pancreas, that appears to have spread to my liver and lymph nodes.
Another week later, this is confirmed as cancer with no possibility for surgery. I am now dying and with chemotherapy extending the time I have left, I have perhaps one year, maybe more if I am lucky.
This for an active, live life to the full kind of guy is, as you could imagine, a shock to the core. Over the past few weeks, I have come to terms with my own impending mortality and its arrival faster than expected. My family have taken the news hard but we are managing and coping, planning the time we have ahead of us to be the best it can. We see the year ahead as a time where we get to shape how I want to leave the world.
My family and friends are all that is important to me now and in that respect, I have been very, very lucky. There will be parties, laughter, sharing stories and sharing the rich diversity of the life I have been so lucky to lead. Perhaps that was my problem, I simply burnt the candle at both ends.
Right now, to look at me, I might seem fine, maybe a little thinner than the last time you saw me but otherwise looking OK. My head's been shaved as the family has wanted to do it for years so I finally relented and discovered to my relief that I don't have an oddly-shaped noggin. I’m walking around, smiling and being the same old larrikin I used to be, just a little slower. But I know this will not last.
I’ve finished my first round of chemotherapy but there is no knowing what the remaining 11 rounds will do to me. Once those have finished, will my descent be fast, or will the tumours have retreated? These are all unknowns at this time. The only known right now is to enjoy every precious moment with those I love.
At some point within the discernable future, my body will begin to fail. It will no longer have the energy to fight what is eating it from the inside as I increasingly become a prisoner within the shell I inhabit. There will be no other treatment options other than pain relief as I am forced to lie, sit, slump, whatever it may be and watch my family grow anxious with time. Days will become longer as we wait on tenterhooks before I slip away.
I feel it should be my choice when I decide to leave. My wife and I have discussed this and we agree - prolonging the inevitable is prolonging the pain for all of us. I want to pass with the dignity that reflects the wishes of not just me, but those who love me and those who are close to me. When all the fun has been had, when my body has failed and my mind exhausted, I want to have the option to peacefully die on my own terms.
The notion that I have to remain alive until the doctors can do no more is a harrowing thought. I will have to witness the pain and sadness on the faces of those I care so deeply about.
I believe that when there are no longer any more options to preserve life, pain and suffering are the only knowns, I should be allowed, under New Zealand law to pass with dignity and respect.
Richard Simpson is a Christchurch businessman and father of two.
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