Time For Debate With Dignity

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The thing I’ve always found interesting about the Euthanasia debate, is the way it cuts across both party and ideological lines.

While it’s true that the freedom to do as we wish with our own bodies and lives – even to the point of ending them in a moment and in a manner of our choosing – is pretty strongly a liberal notion … there are not a few individuals from the more conservative end of the spectrum who’ve also come forward to advocate on behalf of reform in this area.

In fact, the first few serious legislative efforts at securing a progressive law-change on death-with-dignity came from my own party – New Zealand First. Men like Michael Laws and Peter Brown put forward bills in 1995 and 2003 respectively to reform the law – and were defeated by first 61-29, and then the incredibly narrow margin of 59-58.

The Labour Party, meanwhile, has instructed Iain Lees-Galloway to withdraw the Private Member’s Bill he’d taken stewardship of on behalf of departed-MP Maryan Street.

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Now as applies each of Laws and Brown, you’d hardly call them among the forefront avant-garde of progressive social change. And yet, there they were – advocating on behalf of a decidedly controversial legislative proposal.

Why?

In both cases, these men had witnessed somebody close to them go through the agony of a terminal decline; and this motivated them to use their positions in our Legislature to try and do something to help any Kiwi who found themselves in similar circumstances.

That display of *empathy* in regard to policy is something powerful. To my mind, it’s quite simply the best justification available for putting forward a proposed law change – particularly a personally- rather than party-driven piece of legislation.

Now, in 2015, the debate has reignited once more.

A lawyer’s terminal brain cancer and brave simultaneous legal challenge has provided the catalyst.

I cannot tell you what to think about that particular issue. I know, personally, that I am pro-euthanasia. I say this as an avowed Terry Pratchett fan; and acutely cognoscente that the quote which initially cemented this belief in my mind – something along the lines of “don’t think of it as me dying from the disease … think of it as me taking it out with me” – is something which I can no longer find, and therefore somewhat likely to be the product of my own diseased and decaying mind.

But as much as I may have enjoyed the man’s prodigious literary output – and feel myself almost personally aggrieved that there will never be another Discworld for me to sink my teeth into and expand the horizons of the world upon a turtle’s shell – I also, and more importantly, recognize that the man was human.

And that to wish him to suffer the frightful specter and spectacle of watching his faculties diminish before his eyes and his intellect to dim day by day, even for the greatest of all possible literary justifications … would be fundamentally selfish of me.

In the case of somebody suffering from a more intrusive malady such as the bowel cancer which claimed Michael Laws’ comrade, Cam Campion MP – it would arguably be almost outright evil.

But you may disagree with me, and that is fair enough too. We are fortunate enough to live in a democratic society in which reasonable men may differ in matters of opinion (particularly as applies social policy); and I have certainly seen in the comments section of this very blog passionate advocates who have drawn upon their own experiences with the terminal illness of a loved one to make the case against assisted suicide.

What I would hope we could ALL agree on, however, is that this issue is one which can be decided by The People; rather than being left to the minds and consciences of the 121 MPs who serve as our surrogates of opinion up in Parliament.

For you see, each time an attempt to secure a referendum on this issue has been blocked, it’s effectively been the result of a majority of MPs stating *their* consciences and values are more important than your own.

That becomes a bit of a problem when many MPs appear to be out-of-step with popular opinion on a given issue – with polling at the time of the last serious reform effort, back in 2003, showing 73% of New Zealanders were in favour of reform; a far cry in terms of numbers from the 51% of MPs who voted against Peter Brown’s bill the same year.

This discrepancy between public opinion and Parliamentary voting-records is why New Zealand First has long championed a Referendum approach to euthanasia.

Our Party contains many committed advocates on both sides of this debate – and it wouldn’t be fair to the good people from either perspective for us to take a formalized position one way or the other.

But one thing we are united on, is our call for this issue to be put to the people.

Because a situation wherein a point of legislative reform takes twenty years to go precisely nowhere, despite ever-escalating polling to the contrary, is not a just nor democratic one.

For this reason and so many others, I look forward to an ongoing debate – with dignity – about this issue.

And hopefully one which conclusively delivers a result – sooner rather than later.

Oh, and one final note.

I’ve also been requested to note that David Seymour seeking to draft his own Private Member’s Bill on the subject is pretty ironic … given ACT itself is on electoral life-support as it undergoes an agonizing period of drawn out and terminal decline.

Alister, I hope you’re happy.

10 COMMENTS

  1. Common sense, It allows people to depart with dignity rather than as silently screaming tormented drugged up hulks, how could anyone deny this? Some just get it over with and jump off a bridge or drown themselves. Despite what the christians say human life is animal life too, we assist our pets don’t we?

    • Hang on, that seems a bit inconsistent. Dignity is a quality we bestow on humans because we are moral agents. Animals aren’t moral agents. Therefore, when we assist pets to die, we are attempting to relieve them of pain. Pain and dignity are two distinct concepts in relation to this issue.

      • Well said. I also object to this notion that a ‘natural’ death is one without dignity. That is an insult to anyone who has chosen to not undergo invasive medical treatments, for example, but rather to accept palliative care for the time they have left.

  2. You mean, the horizons of a world on a disc on top of four elephants on top of a turtle shell, bro

  3. We already have the right to die. Any person, at any time, can kill themselves via any number of methods.

    What you are asking for is the right to demand that someone else kill you.

    There is a difference.

  4. It’s despicable how the design of our flag is of more importance to our politicians in power than the suffering of the terminally ill.
    Shame on them!

  5. I was pro-euthanasia for a long time, but as I’ve got older, I can’t abide by it. You see my distrust of the state, and the medical profession have increased as I’ve aged. Both, have proven themselves less than worthy of trust – indeed a quick look at history should make anyone cringe.

    It takes nothing to go from an enlightened society, to a barbarus one. Are you aware of what is being asked? We are asking the state to kill.

    I’ll be honest I live with a debilitating condition. I’m in quite severe pain the majority of the time. I don’t want the state, or a medical person, or indeed, anyone else telling me they can kill me – to end my pain. Yes, all you asking for is voluntary, but how long before voluntary – becomes something else? See we’re back to history again.

    Pain and suffering are part of life. That said, there are ways to make the moments leading to death more comfortable. We are very enlightened around that, and I’m happy to say my grandmother was given treatment which gave her a high level of comfort. And the doctor did not have to kill her! These enlightened practices include, but are not limited to: anti-anxiety medication – medicinal cannabis – proper hospice care.

    Why is there a mad dash to kill? Is it that it’s cheaper? Do people want to avoid talking about death again? Maybe, because we are so happy to avoid, other places where by we give our tacit support to killing.

    I agree dignity with death is good, but killing someone to somehow attain dignity – all seems rather barbaric to me.

  6. Your passion, while admirable, is blinding you.

    “We are asking the state to kill.”

    We are asking the state not to prosecute our friends for supplying us the materials, upon our request, with which we wish to kill ourselves. Big difference.

    “Yes, all you asking for is voluntary, but how long before voluntary – becomes something else?”

    You are proposing that:
    1) a doctor or family member would kill you, and claim that you “asked for it”
    2) that the police would just accept that on face value, rather than investigating to see whether there was actually an assisted suicide (legal) or a murder (illegal)
    3) that courts and juries would be unable to tell the difference between voluntary euthanasia and murder

    Proposal 1) is a conspiracy theory. Most people’s doctors and family members are not homicidal maniacs. If they are, they could fake a natural death under the current law, as easily as they could fake a a voluntary euthanasia if it was legalized.

    Proposals 2) and 3) are effectively disproven by the fact that every time these cases come before the police or the courts, they investigate and determine whether they are dealing with an accomplice to a voluntary suicide, or an involuntary murder, as a factor in sentencing.

  7. While wanting to be charitable to David Seymour for his efforts, I actually think it is more of a political stunt cooked up by National and ACT. National wants Seymour to do it because they are frankly chicken s..t. It is actually brilliant strategy really. Get your junior toady to introduce it. It if passes then National can share the credit and promote Seymour as a great social progressive. If it fails then National can simply step back, wash their hands and let Seymour take the political fallout. National can’t lose either way.
    On the other hand Labour have lost a golden opportunity to take political brownie points here by taking the lead on this debate and introducing their own bill. However they also appear to have joined the parliamentary chicken s..t club.
    I am aware that Labour’s original core membership contained many Irish Catholic workers who wouldn’t want a bar of any pro-euthanasia legislation, but things are different now.
    Labour had a great opportunity to show its moral courage and show up National’s lack of same, but they blew it!

  8. Death is the one big taboo left in our society. After millions of years we still haven’t really got to grips with it.
    I don’t think our society is yet ready to accept euthanasia of humans in any form, no matter how good-intentioned any legislation may be.

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