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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.
Media release Thursday May 9 – for immediate publication
As Parliament prepares to vote on the End of Life Choice Bill this month, a new poll shows a clear majority of New Zealanders want to allow doctors to help the terminally ill to die painlessly and with dignity.
The Horizon Research poll confirmed consistent surveys showing that fewer than one-in-five voters oppose a law change.
The poll, taken last month after the justice select committee reported on a record 39,000 submissions on the bill, found 74 percent of respondents believe that mentally competent New Zealanders aged 18 or over with an end-stage terminal disease like cancer should be able to get medical assistance to end their lives.
Sixty-five percent of voters believe it should also be available for people with “irreversible unbearable suffering which may not cause death in the immediate future” (like motor neurone disease).
In both cases, just 19 percent of New Zealanders were against the proposal.
The pollsters said support for medically assisted dying had risen since Horizon’s first survey on the subject in July 2012, when 63 percent supported a law change.
MPs are expected to vote on the second reading of ACT leader David Seymour’s bill on May 22.
“This shows MPs that a substantial majority of voters remain adamant that they want an enlightened law allowing medical assistance in dying (MAID) despite a vigorous campaign of lies and misinformation mounted by opponents,” Maryan Street, President of the End-of-Life Choice Society, said on Thursday.
There was strong support for MAID across all age groups, ethnicities and political parties, based on voting at the last election in 2017.
All parties currently represented in Parliament had voters who overwhelmingly supported assisted dying ranging in percentages from 65% to 93%.
The poll of 1,341 voters was taken between April 19-29 and the results weighted to represent the New Zealand adult population. Horizon says the margin of error is plus or minus 2.7 percent.
Eds: A graph illustrating key poll results is attached.
More information: Maryan Street, 021-977-555
Released by David Barber, media adviser 021-072-8760
Click to enlarge:
Jim Vause | 24 April 2019 | NZ Doctor
It seems our ethics on this matter are plagued by opinion, beliefs, awed interpretation of evidence and biases of individual professional realms
There is something very paternalistic about the “Doctors say no” letter opposing medically assisted euthanasia (i).
The letter’s rationale that, “to intentionally assist a person to die would fundamentally weaken the doctor-patient relationship which is based on trust and respect” is akier than lo.
For a terminally ill patient to ask their doctor to cease their suffering by assisting them to advance their death usually reflects a deep trust often built up over years of a GP-patient relationship. Any GP worth their salt will know this. I do not buy the letter’s argument.
Similarly, the NZMA using the argument that “the proper provision of such (pain) relief, even when it may hasten the death of the patient, is not unethical” to justify opposing doctor-assisted suicide fails when the patient’s desire for death is due to suffering, but not of pain.
Rationality is further eroded by their statement: “We are of the view that permitting individuals to end their lives with the assistance of a doctor — even when that assistance is limited to assessment, verification or prescribing — is contrary to the ethics.”
Standing on the top of a seven-strand fence or dancing on a pin? This seems a common circumstance when it comes to the NZMA arguments, a situation probably resulting from the clinical experience of those realms of medicine opposed to medically assisted euthanasia and one in which palliative care features very strongly.
Consider: What is the underlying reason for most persons committing suicide? It is due to mental illness. Depression, anxiety and a few other mental states.
If doctor-assisted suicide was available, how many persons contemplating suicide would seek help rather than killing themselves? Don’t know.
Does palliative care treat these persons? No. Are the mental states leading to suicide treatable or do they attenuate with time? Yo.
In some persons, it is irreversible and they continue to suffer until they die, irrespective of medical intervention. Underlying is a neurological disease, usually degenerative, often difficult to detect, if at all.
It is hard to refute the rationale that ending such a life when suffering is unbearable is better than continued futile medical interventions that don’t work, lead to a loss of dignity (see the NZMA Code of ethics) and cause suffering in their own right.
To end such suffering in a manner that preserves that person’s dignity and is painless, is vastly better and humane than the terror, physically and emotionally, of an ill-planned gruesome suicide with all the concomitant distress and social angst it causes family and friends.
Does allowing the latter through doing nothing meet the NZMA’s Code of Ethics that “requires doctors to always bear in mind the obligation to preserve life wherever possible and justiable, while allowing death to occur with dignity and comfort when it appears inevitable”?
Ultimately, I feel that taking this absolute position, one of medical control, has the malodour of a paternalistic profession that comes from a position of believing that it knows everything about the human condition and can treat all its malfunctioning, when in reality it knows so little about how the brain works, and what it does, and is thus so limited.
Terminal patients want to maintain control, especially for dignity.(ii) We advocate for advanced directives while patient rights are articulated explicitly in our H&DC code, yet we seem to nd it too hard to do the difcult thing, exemplified by the NZMA statement that, “It seems that doctors are somewhat reluctant to take on the weight of the burden that we are asked to assume by legalising active euthanasia.”
It seems our ethics on this matter are plagued by opinion, beliefs, awed interpretation of evidence and biases of individual professional realms. A change in our ethics is only a matter of time.
[ii] J Med Ethics. 2006 Dec; 32(12): 706–710.
What people close to death say about euthanasia and assisted suicide: a qualitative study
A Chapple, S Ziebland, A McPherson, and A Herxheimer
Former Prime Minister Sir Bill English and his wife Dr Mary English are fiercely opposed to the End of Life Choice Bill. Photo/Bauer Media/NZ Women's Weekly.
Opponents of David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill are pulling out all the stops to kill it on May 22.
If you’re an opponent of assisted dying laws and you want to advance your cause, best not conflate the plight of suicidal young people and that of the terminally ill who are asking to shave a few days or weeks off the end of their lives to avoid the worst of their distress.
It didn’t work well for National MP Simon O’Connor, chairman of the Health select committee inquiry, when he asserted the same false equivalence in 2017 and ran into a storm of criticism. And it’s certainly not working for Dr Mary English right now.
A meme circulating on the internet featuring a photo of the Wellington GP beside the words: “If assisted suicide is a triumph for autonomy and choice, how can youth suicide be a tragedy?” has been howled down.
Libertarian columnist Damien Grant said that while there are good arguments against assisted suicide, that isn’t one of them.
Left-wing blogger Martyn Bradbury, who is staunchly opposed to assisted dying, described it as “ugly”.
Green MP Chloe Swarbrick was similarly outraged, tweeting: “Young people are tragically opting out of their lives because they are not receiving support and they don’t have faith in a better future. They’ve had autonomy and choice stolen from them. Don’t dare equate that to people on their death bed seeking dignity in their final days.”
Others offered false equivalences of their own. As one wag put it: “If a planned heart transplant by a professional surgeon is a triumph of medical science, why is an unplanned heart transplant on a random pedestrian by an untrained amateur with a kitchen knife considered a tragedy?”
You know it’s a howler when even Renee Joubert, from Euthanasia-Free NZ, disowns it. She wrote: “I think it’s important to understand this meme in context. It was not created or published by Dr Mary English but by an Australian anti-euthanasia organisation.
“They took a sentence from her oral submission to Parliament’s Justice Committee, in which she was deliberately using this statement to illustrate a point.”
In fact, if you listen to Dr English’s submission, the words reproduced in the meme represent exactly the point she was making. There was no other context.
And it’s hardly unusual for opponents to make the same odious comparison. On Newstalk ZB in February, her husband, Sir Bill English, told Chris Lynch: “How do we tell young people not to consider suicide as a solution to their depression on the one hand but, on the other, say that if you ask for euthanasia, the state will organise it and provide a doctor?”
You don’t have to be very thoughtful to see the clear difference between a depressed teenager who is going through a rough patch and a rational person who wants help to die to avoid the last, most distressing phase of a terminal illness.
The fact is opponents of assisted dying are pulling out all the stops to derail David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill at its second reading on May 22 and the meme featuring Dr English’s statement is just one example of the less-than-admirable tactics they are willing to employ.
On April 27, a group that calls themselves DefendNZ sent a 94-page booklet to every member of Parliament that features a variety of people — from the disabled to doctors — outlining why they don’t want assisted dying legislation passed.
Presumably in an effort to cast its net as wide as possible, the booklet also poses entirely irrelevant questions such as: “Is the End of Life Choice Bill a colonial imposition?”
It states: “The End of Life Choice Bill is largely deaf to Māori conceptions of people and death as well as tikanga Māori” — without acknowledging that the whole point of Seymour’s bill is that it provides only for voluntary assisted dying.
Under the bill’s provisions, Māori — like everyone else — would be entirely free to die in whichever manner they wanted. The bill has no implications for them apart from offering a choice.
On its website, under the heading “The Top 5 Reasons Why MPs Should Vote ‘No’ at the Second Reading”, DefendNZ encourages readers to contact their MP to ask them to vote against the bill.
One of the five reasons suggested to pass on to MPs includes the fact the debate in Parliament will be complex and time-consuming.
DefendNZ warns MPs there will be lengthy debates over amendments to the bill 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.”
This amounts to asking MPs: “Why not guarantee yourself an easier life by simply voting it down at the second reading?”
If comparing youth suicide and assisted dying for the terminally ill is an underhand tactic, this appeal to MPs’ self-interest must qualify as a new low in the debate.
We can expect a lot more public campaigning by opponents in the three weeks until MPs get to vote on whether to allow Seymour’s bill to proceed further. The last thing they want is for the bill to be allowed to go to a referendum at the next election because they fear — undoubtedly correctly — that they will lose. If the bill is voted down at its second or third reading, there will be no referendum.
Opponents also don’t want the bill to pass its second reading because it would give Parliament a chance to make it more palatable to those MPs who might approve of the terminally ill receiving an assisted death but baulk at the inclusion of people with “grievous and irremediable conditions”. (Seymour has proposed removing that clause as well as specifying that mental illness and disability alone will not satisfy eligibility criteria, among other changes.)
In other words, opponents don’t want the bill to have the chance of being amended in such a way that it answers many of the objections presented in submissions to the Justice select committee. They are determined to kill it as soon as possible.
The other circumstance that adds urgency to the campaign to sink Seymour’s bill quickly is that on June 19 more than a quarter of Australia’s population will get access to assisted dying when Victoria’s legislation takes effect.
Religious activists in New Zealand and Australia see the two nations as effectively one battlefield. They worry that more victories like Victoria’s will create a domino effect across both nations.
And they have reason to worry. Western Australia’s government is presenting its own bill in August or September, after a year-long, cross-party parliamentary inquiry recommended an assisted dying regime that would look very like the one David Seymour has proposed.
The fact it is a government bill and that support for assisted dying is running at well over 80 per cent in polls in Western Australia means there is a strong likelihood it will pass.
Queensland has a parliamentary inquiry under way that is considering assisted dying legislation for the first time in the state’s history. And another bill will be presented in New South Wales this year, after a Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill failed to pass in the NSW Upper House by just one vote in 2017.
The Australian organisation responsible for the Dr English meme is called Hope, an initiative dedicated to opposing assisted dying, which is allied to the Australian Family Association. The AFA is a Christian lobby group set up by Australia’s most famous Catholic political lobbyist, Bob Santamaria, in 1979.
Some New Zealanders will object to an overseas religious group attempting to influence our laws and will be tempted to respond in the same way as Judith Collins did in March when she learned the NRA was trying to meddle in our gun-law debate. She recommended they “Bugger off!”
Hope, however, appears to be hopeless — at creating effective memes, at least.
This recent extension of its mission across the Tasman certainly looks to have been more hindrance than help to those who are keen to kill Seymour’s bill.
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