NZ Herald 8 January 2018
Family First Comment: “…However, it would also apply to those disadvantaged by age, physical or mental disability, sickness and poverty, and sadly those without the compassionate support of family.
Ill health is known to affect mental health, happiness levels and the ability to see a future without pain or despair. In a depressed or affected state I believe that one’s ability to make a definitive choice of this magnitude is compromised.”
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Before the Christmas break, Parliament debated David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill.
The bill passed its first reading and is now sitting with a select committee which will open for public submissions in the new year.
I cast a “No” conscience vote in the first reading. I respect that many of you will have a different position.
The euthanasia and assisted suicide debate is extremely emotive. It asks us to question some very fundamental beliefs and examine long-held moral codes. Death is often a taboo conversation subject in our society.
Some would say Parliament is at its best when members speak their own minds and from personal experience, and party politics do not play any role. We each have our own viewpoints and I would like to explain my vote to you.
David Seymour’s bill supports the death of patients in two different ways. The first is called euthanasia. Euthanasia is an ancient Greek concept which in a broad sense means a ‘good death’. In our society, euthanasia has come to mean a doctor delivering a lethal injection to a person, usually something like phenobarbital.
The second method described in the bill is physician-assisted suicide, where the doctor gives the patient a lethal drug that they can take a time of their choosing. This bill allows for both methods which is almost unheard of in any other jurisdiction around the world.
In my role as an MP, I am a law-maker.
I take this role seriously and believe that this bill will forever alter a fundamental pillar of our society. The role of the Parliament is to ensure that we have a set of laws that protect our community. If we are going to change the law, we must ask ourselves: “will this law keep all members of our society safe?” On this matter of life and death the outcomes are absolute.
I understand the pain that many individuals, life-partners and family members face during battles with mental and physical illness. I understand that euthanasia offers an option. The law should apply to those who have carefully and philosophically considered their choice, supported by family and professionals, with a clear view about their choice.
However, it would also apply to those disadvantaged by age, physical or mental disability, sickness and poverty, and sadly those without the compassionate support of family.
Ill health is known to affect mental health, happiness levels and the ability to see a future without pain or despair. In a depressed or affected state I believe that one’s ability to make a definitive choice of this magnitude is compromised. A positive state of mind is regarded by many health professionals as a factor in physical recovery.
A decision to end a human life must be based in categorical fact and I do not believe that diagnosis is always as rigorous as we might like to believe. Over many years the euthanasia debate has brought forward many examples of those diagnosed with a debilitating condition or terminal illness that have ‘beaten the odds’ or survived for much longer than doctors predicted.
Some individuals have even reached a place in which their pain or symptoms were reduced dramatically, their quality of life returned and they were ‘cured’.
In addition, treatments and medical interventions frequently progress, new drug therapies are developed and pain management techniques improve.
The bill compromises the integrity of our healthcare services in New Zealand. Healthcare should enhance quality of life for individuals.
The World Health Organisation describes palliative care in a way that reflects my own thinking – it affirms life and regards dying as a normal process, it should neither hasten nor postpone death.
Health services have a duty of care, not a duty to end life, or a duty to make a decision about a life. The bill impacts the role of the medical professional, as it will place a moral burden on the shoulders of healthcare professionals. I think it will have a profound impact on the relationship between doctors and patients.
I am concerned about a future in which medical professionals and society become more comfortable with euthanasia as an option.
It is possible that judgments will be made about the value of life. For an individual to look to end their life to relieve emotional and financial distress for families is not a place of genuine ‘choice’, and, I believe, that would more likely to apply to those more vulnerable individuals, with less financial and social resources.
As a country, I would like more emphasis and funding to be delivered to palliative and end of life support services. We need to effectively care for individuals and families in their hour of need.
If you feel strongly about this issue, please get involved in this debate by contacting me or through the select committee public consultation process. The views of our local community are important.