Euthanasia is a difficult subject that Nelsonians have strong opposing views on. I have been grappling with the issue over the last year as one of eight parliamentarians on the Justice Select Committee considering ACT MP David Seymour’s Bill. We reported last week to Parliament on the exhaustive hearing of 39,159 submissions, 92% opposed, from all over New Zealand including 440 from Nelson and Tasman.
Euthanasia sounds like an attractive proposition. Advocates argue it is no different to what we do for pets to avoid suffering and that it is an individual’s choice to end their life by assisted suicide if they so wish. I have become increasingly sceptical of these arguments as I have delved into the detail.
Doctors made compelling submissions opposing this law change. They have no difficulty in patients making an informed decision to refuse treatment or using medication for pain relief that may bring forward the time of death. Their concern is about drugs administered with the deliberate purpose of killing a patient.
They also expressed deep concern about the reliability of determining how long a person has to live and whether someone making a decision to end their life is free of depression or undue influence from others. It is inevitable that mistakes will be made.
I was unnerved by the international evidence. The most common reason cited by patient’s requesting euthanasia in counties where it is allowed is concern about being a burden on family and society. We must be cautious of creating an environment where people feel guilty for living. I was also shocked by examples overseas where a young person suffering from mental illness was lawfully granted euthanasia and where an older woman was forcefully injected against her will after having changed her mind.
Disability advocates were very opposed to the Bill. They have worked tirelessly for decades to get society to value people with disabilities. The Bill applies to people with grievous and irremediable conditions as well as the terminally ill. It effectively states that assisted suicide is okay for these people as their lives are of less value.
I also worry about the mixed signals this bill sends on suicide with over 600 New Zealanders taking their own life each year. This law change erodes the value put on life in saying it is OK for some to end their life prematurely.
I also struggle with the Act Party’s pure individualism in this bill that ignores the importance of family. It entitles someone to take their own life without their partner, children or loved ones even knowing about it until after the event.
This Bill is motivated by genuine compassion but it is mistaken. We should heed the wisdom from Hospice and their focus on the quality of life in one’s last days. We should be especially proud in Nelson of the new Hospice facilities in Stoke. Parliament would do better to focus on better funding and more consistent access to palliative care than opening up this Pandora’s Box of allowing assisted suicide.