I don’t support euthanasia in NZ.
I’ve heard the arguments, I’ve listened to the debate, and I just don’t support it.
“If you were an animal you wouldn’t let it suffer” – Yes but we aren’t animals are we. We are self-conscious free thinking human beings.
“Letting people live in pain is wrong”. Yes it is, and we have incredible pain management these days, only very rare cases are left to writhe in agony.
“People have the right to end their life”. No they don’t. They may have the right to commit suicide if you want to go that far, but the right to ask another to end their life? That’s not been agreed to at all! This is a decision whanau and the wider community are all party to because of it’s ramifications upon the very fabric of our society.
I have 3 main reasons I disagree with euthanasia in NZ.
The first is the type of person and the reasons they push for euthanasia. It always seems to me to be alpha type personalities. Over achievers, people of deep independence who pride themselves on that independence. People who would consider the embarrassment of being unable to control their body functions worse than death itself. Their demand for death revolves around their inability to control the process of death. That doesn’t warrant allowing another to administer a medical cocktail that ends life.
Which brings me to my second reason, the humility of death. Dying as a process isn’t supposed to be clean and efficient. It’s painful, it’s human, it requires the family and friends you’ve built in a lifetime to nurse you through your final moments. It is a deeply emotional time, a journey where the journey is far more important than the destination. The process of letting go, of saying goodbye is a deeply personal and intimate part of the human experience. To deny that is to deny one of the most important rituals of human life.
But the biggest reason I would never want euthanasia in NZ is Jenny Shipley.
One of the most important pieces of journalism investigative reporter Selwyn Manning ever wrote was in the mid 1990’s when he single handedly managed to expose a secret program by then Minister of Health Jenny Shipley to begin a defacto state euthanasia policy…
Back in the mid 1990s Jenny Shipley (then Minister of Health in the Bolger National Government) established a governmental body called the Core Health Services Committee (CHSC) which was chaired by former broadcaster Sharon Crosbie.
The CHSC was known to exist, but no one paid much attention to it, and also getting information out of it was problematic as it would cite commercial confidentiality as a reason for withholding information. So a lot of its work went under the radar.
Back then, National had created a commercial model that replaced health boards with Regional Funding Authorities (RHAs) and hospitals became Crown Health Enterprises. It wasn’t until 2000, that the new Helen Clark-led Labour-Alliance Government disestablished the RHAs and CHEs and reestablished publicly elected health boards, and, hospitals became public hospitals once again.
But back in the early to mid-1990s the Core Health Services Committee was accountable directly to the Minister of Health, Jenny Shipley, and was tasked with creating health funding frameworks, protocols, criteria that the then RHAs would rely upon when deciding what health services the government would pay Crown Health Enterprises (CHEs) for – when providing health ‘services’ to ‘clients’ (patients).
The Core Health Services Committee was tasked to evaluate a way of reducing the cost-burden on the Government for health services and come up with a set of criteria that CHEs and doctors would have to abide by when deciding which ‘clients’ (patients) would get treatment and, importantly, who would not.
In August 1994, I became aware that the Core Health Services Committee had been evaluating the most costly procedures, including renal dialysis treatment for people with end-stage renal failure. I was told by sources that the CHSC had drafted a document that included a framework for how expensive treatments would be handled, and that the Minister of Health had approved the plan.
Generally, there are two types of criteria:
inclusion – (meaning patients that met certain criteria would be eligible for treatment)
exclusion – (meaning those that could be labeled as possessing or exhibiting specific criteria would exclude then from being offered treatment.
In August 1994, I was leaked documents that displayed how the Minister had approved the CHSC protocols that used exclusion criteria and that the protocols had been presented to doctors and the exclusion criteria enforced.
What this meant was people who presented with end stage renal failure, and who required dialysis to stay alive, would be excluded from getting this life-saving treatment if they were deemed:
* to be blind
* to have an intellectual disability
* had a history of mental illness
* exhibited or expressed anti-social behaviour
* had a history of imprisonment
* had an unrelated health condition that may cause complications
* were over the age of 65-years…
The set of exclusion criteria continued on.
Without a public debate having ensured, CHE doctors were required to administer the changes and CHEs were required to report back to the RHAs with details on how the exclusion criteria was being applied.
Up until then, doctors and clinicians had decided on whether a patient would get dialysis treatment – the assessment was based on what health benefits a patient could expect, and were not required to consider exclusion criteria that were determined by the State.
The doctors silently rebelled and, as a journalist, as I mentioned above, I was leaked the CHSC protocols and exclusion criteria documents.
…the National Party were actively and secretly looking for ways to disqualify the sick and vulnerable from state health care. If they were prepared to do it when euthanasia was illegal in the 1990s, imagine how quickly they will begin to pressure hospitals to start euthanasia as a cost cutting measure if it becomes legal?
We know how poorly Corrections look after the welfare of prisoners. We know how badly CYFs looks after children in their care. We know how damaging Housing NZ, WINZ and the Ministry of Development treat beneficiaries.
So what would stop Government agencies applying the same disregard for the poor and sick if euthanasia is passed?
The demands of those too proud to die needing others, denial of our humility in death and a hard right Government who see euthanasia as a cost cutting mechanism are not good enough reasons to legalise euthanasia.
Mountain climbing lawyers might consider ending their life on their own terms a victory, but the real losers will be the poor and voiceless in state hospitals being pushed into ending their expensive treatment of a life.