Time to allow death with dignity

Written By: - Date published: 12:06 pm, March 25th, 2010 - 38 comments
Categories: death with dignity, Social issues - Tags:

Why should we force someone to live who wants to die? Why can’t a person have the right to choose euthanasia?

Why is Margaret Page, a woman who has been effectively paralysed since 1991, being forced to starve herself to death over weeks? Why can’t she have death with dignity if she, in sound mind as assessed by three psychologists, has decided that she doesn’t want to live in that condition any longer?

Imagine the determination it must take to starve yourself to death – to not eat for weeks on end as your body cries out for food. That is the measure of how sure Page is of her decision.

What right do we have to say ‘if you pass out, we’ll come in and try to save your life against your wishes’ and yet not give her the option of a humane way to end her life?

It is time to change the law so that New Zealanders are permitted what should be a basic and unquestioned right. The right to choose to end their lives when they choose by a humane method and with dignity.

I challenge an MP, perhaps Page’s electorate MP, to put up a private member’s bill and I challenge Parliament to back it, so that people no linger have to go through what Page is going through.

We wouldn’t force a life of terminal illness, constant pain, or paralysis on a dog. We should give ourselves the choice.

38 comments on “Time to allow death with dignity”

  1. deemac 1

    or perhaps she would not be suicidal if the help she needed to live with dignity was provided?

  2. Peter 2

    My Dad died of Smoking related diseases, the last 3 months of his life you wouldn’t have wished on your pet ! In fact if you let your pet suffer as he hid, you’d probably have wound up on the 6 o’clock news for causing suffering to animals !

    It is time for a rational debate on this issue, give people the choice, after all they are the ones suffering ….

  3. Tiger Mountain 3

    An existential issue most of us manage to avoid confronting too often. A lot of human energy is put into distracting ourselves from the end that awaits us all, and fair enough too, enjoy it while you can. Which is partly why the left does what it does, to make that maximum enjoyment possible ultimately for all. Nice post Eddie.

    I spared my best 4 legged friend from a gruesome death recently via euthanising her, the vets supportive attitude was great in a difficult situation where the affected ‘person’ could not talk. People can usually relay their wishes. The will to live is strong and if people want to go to the wire fine. Those that don’t want to go on should have a free choice of a painfree dignified exit (with the expected legal and medical caveats).

  4. Bright Red 4

    This needs to be sorted out.

    The last time a bill came to Parliament it was narrowly defeated. (anyone remember by how much?)

    I would like to think that we’ve progressed since then but it’s hard to be sure. The Maori Party can be quite reactionary on social issues. ACT is no liberal party. And the Nats are stuffed full of reactionary/religious types

    • Pascal's bookie 4.1

      NZFirst are gone, and Dunne is on his lonesome so that’ll help.

      Also, National doesn’t care so loudly about ‘culture war’ issues when they are in government.

    • gingercrush 4.2

      Is this the 2003 one? That was 60 against and 57 for. Labour was split evenly, far more National MPs were against than for (and generally this National Party seems more conservative). Greens were mostly in favour as was Act (though who knows with two of the new Act MPs) and NZ First actually were very for the bill.

      I’m sure there was another attempt after 2003 though.

    • Ari 4.3

      You know, I always find it amazing that people who believe in souls find it less acceptable for a person to die to escape pain and indignity. You would think that they’d be more understanding of the viewpoint. 😉

      (Of course, this is probably more about the liberal/conservative divide than the religious/secular one)

  5. A Nonny Moose 5

    *awaits the usual Slippery Slope arguments*

  6. BLiP 6

    Wait no more, A Nonny Moose.

    This is a tricky one. From what I have seen, there already exists an unofficial “easing out” already being practised in hospitals. As far as I’m concerned, someone not already at death’s door who wants to die is in need of psychological care. I cannot imagine the despair Margaret endures but I feel that it is this which needs attention and not her “right” to die. Further, legislating for euthanasia and putting a formal structure for such in place is altogether far too much power for the state and a slippery slope when you have such a cost-focussed National Ltdâ„¢ type government in power. How long before it becomes mandatory?

    Oh, I don’t know . . . what a horrible situation for all concerned.

    • Bright Red 6.1

      but she has been assessed and been foudn to be mentally competent… if she wasn’t they would force-feed her.

      and, yeah, doctors and nurses do help people die. It would be better if that happened in an open and formal manner.

      • BLiP 6.1.1

        Yeah, I know but . . . where there’s life, there’s hope and all that.

        I’m stuck in middle in that I agree with both sides of the argument. The only way through, for me, would be a barrage of safeguards and a long, drawn out process, but is instituting such a pathway not just adding further suffering to the person concerned? The existing unofficial policy works well except when there are significant others opposed – in that case, I would say the person suffering should be able to have their wishes carried out. And, sure, have a formal process but I would insist on it being a public process whereby exercising the right to die removes the right to privacy.

        And then there’s the “resources” component: – is deemac right in that if Margaret had the means to life with dignity would her decision be different – should medical resources be consumed in extending an already full life at the detriment of saving/improving a youngster’s life?

        As you can see, I haven’t given much thought to this and am just taking the liberty of “brainstorming”.

        Too hard . . . brain hurts . . . lets have a vote.

        • QoT 6.1.1.1

          The existing unofficial policy works well

          Sure it does … if you’re able to convey your wishes, if you have medical staff willing to help you die, if you’re able to comply with that help (where, say, a nurse may give you enough painkillers to overdose, but you have to take them yourself). There’s a lot of assumptions there, and if this “unofficial” system is failing significant numbers of people, we are very unlikely to know about it because the media only focus on cases worthy/scandalous enough to get ratings.

    • NickS 6.2

      As far as I’m concerned, someone not already at death’s door who wants to die is in need of psychological care.

      Develop clinical depression then come back to me.

      Because sometimes it doesn’t go away, regardless of treatment, and the personal suffering etc that can cause is too much for some people to bear, and when all evidence-based treatments fail, I see no moral reason to force someone in such a situation to keep living if they choose to die.

  7. Good post Eddie. I agree. Dignity New Zealand has a thoroughly researched and workable legislative draft for voluntary euthanasia. This is the result of ten years of research. Contains the checks and balances people often ask for. http://www.dignitynz.co.nz/

  8. ropata 8


    Terry Pratchett Lecture about Alzheimer’s and assisted dying. Read by Baldrick!

  9. prism 9

    Why should people not have the right to decide when they don’t want to battle with illness, pain or decrepitude any more? Extending the life of someone who is not able to live life for themselves but through the agency of others is not right if the person wants to stop life, and can convey this to a reputable body.

    Many people talk about easing difficulties, making things better and more pleasant, pain can be managed etc. But others forcing their control over another adult’s right to decide when they have lived their life to the full is imposing their idea of rights over the others, it reduces their humanity not enhances it. It is something that must be talked about to the requester to ensure that there is no way that life can be improved for them. We should face up to the fact that some people will want to draw things to an end in a way and time of their own choosing.

    We don’t like to look at the hard facts of our existence and the over-populated condition of our lovely blue ball of earth floating in space. We avoid difficult decisions like this and throw a fog of ethics and dogma and historic extremes at them. We need to look at limiting births also. But we turn away from our consciousness and intelligence and revert to trying to be simple animals or children who can leave some greater, wiser being to tell us how to cope. I think most of us know that isn’t going to happen. We need to bring our ethical and moral focus on how to manage our problems to high standards.

    • drooping 9.1

      “We need to look at limiting births also.”

      Have fun with that.

    • Bright Red 9.2

      I think you want to steer right away from any kind of ‘people dying earlier is good’ argument. It’s not true that a small number of elderly people choosing to die slightly sooner would make a difference to our environmental footprint and all it does is give a toehold for opposition.

      Stick to the moral case.

      • prism 9.2.1

        BR Where did I say that people dying earlier is good? The whole argument I
        made is intended to be that people should be able to decide for themselves generally. If I seemed to make the above point, I have worded it wrongly. Many would choose to live to the last second available. However knowing that one could request an agreed process, and keep each step of the decision making in one’s own hands and in conjunction with loved ones, would be a great thing.

        Limiting births huh. We intelligent people don’t want to take responsibility for our numbers. The churches that are against contraception may bring about our early end. I read about the South American woman who set the record for most children, 52 it was. But I think a Russian woman may have topped that. Quite a lot of multiple births.

        If you work out the multiplication of large families having large families you can see they will soon populate their own cities if they all live and stay in the neighbourhood. The number of humans is forcing the animal populations into extinction, and using up their land and food resources while uncertain weather patterns are ruining human food crops more often. All we need is a potato fungus like Ireland had. We don’t have much time, so we have to think.

  10. Name 10

    “We need to look at limiting births also.’

    This and the resistance to euthanasia are hold-overs from a Christian-based culture which is so deeply ingrained in consciousness that it’s seen as an fundamental truth, beyond question like the seven-day week including a ‘day of leisure’, and the nuclear family.

    Just as the randomness of conception was seen as an expression of God’s will – babies are only born when he decides – so life is seen as something ‘from God’ which man shall not take away.

    This is why abortion and suicide were actually criminal offences for so long, and euthanasia still is.

    Interesting that one can cause a million dollars worth of pointless damage to a plastic bubble and escape conviction claiming it to be ‘for the public good’ even when no actual good was ever likely to come from it, but you can’t help anyone escape the agony and degradation that accompanies some deaths on a claim of private good.

    • prism 10.1

      Name I think that the bubble damage was a symbolic strike against a power that hypocritically invades at will and maims and kills and then claims the high moral ground, and says that it’s for the people’s good or some other elevated goal. A Buddhist monk setting himself on fire in protest is doing this as a symbolic act also. It is a difference of degree.

      We all can be hypocritical, just the way we are. We need to be committed to thinking and planning rationally but at the same time showing more respect for each other and the planet and I wonder if we have left a place in our society for that. Something that isn’t taken up with ‘looking stylish’, ‘my rights’,’the church/bible says that’, ‘we have always done things this way’ and ‘it’s never going to happen so stop being a stupid …whingeing …’. Quite a few of the possible defences against planning for the future.

  11. Sanctuary 11

    The reason why people cannot be allowed to die with dignity is because fundamentally the state has no business intruding into this area of society and making rules that set out when it is and is not OK to kill yourself.

    To do so is to automatically create a benchmark against which peoples continued existence will be measured against. Families can as cruel as they can be kind, and one can imagine the pressure that may be put on Granny to agree to the paper work for a “death with dignity” once she is in the old people’s home and spending the inheritance.

    Death is one of those things that cannot and should not be regulated or legislated by the state, and the potential evils of trying to do far, far outweigh any supposed benefits that derive from attempting to do so.

    Sometimes people have to die beastly, painful or untimely deaths. That is the way it is.

    • B 11.1

      how about the state has no business intruding into what people want to do with their own life including ending it if they want to?

      • prism 11.1.1

        Try and think pragmatically as well as ideologically. The state is useful in that it can set procedures that protect the steps needed from being abused, or forced instead of being a determination by the person concerned. Others in the thread are concerned about pressure, and that needs to be guarded against. The watchdog state would be useful.

        The idea that the state has no business intruding…. is laughable as we are born into a a certain culture and find it very hard to live alone. We are always affected by the actions of others whether its the state or a posse from the ‘hood. We have to manage the state’s powers and make sure it doesn’t turn to the dark side that’s all.

        • B 11.1.1.1

          “The idea that the state has no business intruding . is laughable as we are born into a a certain culture and find it very hard to live alone.”

          The operative words here being born and live – Dying however, is a fundamentally personal issue. We do not have a choice as to whether we are born or the society we are born into therefore it is essential that we have the choice to end our life without society (which we did not choose to be born into- remember) intervening to prevent us from doing so.

  12. Trasparent 12

    Death is one of those things that cannot and should not be regulated or legislated by the state, and the potential evils of trying to do far, far outweigh any supposed benefits that derive from attempting to do so.

    If this is true then there should be no law against or regulating euthanasia

    Sometimes people have to die beastly, painful or untimely deaths. That is the way it is.

    Why should there be when there another way?

    • Marty G 12.1

      so… you’re for allowing people to choose assisted suicide?

      You don’t honestly think that if you allow that then it can be unregulated. You have to have checks on the mental capability of the person to make the choice, on the actions of the doctor etc.

  13. prism 13

    Quote – Sanctuary
    “Sometimes people have to die beastly, painful or untimely deaths. That is the way it is.”
    Quote – Transparent
    “Sometimes people have to die beastly, painful or untimely deaths. That is the way it is.”

    Sounds nastily ideological. The person must be subservient to the non-compromising law. Also – strange – the two quotes above are the same. How can that be, a quantum mind?

  14. Bill 14

    You know, insofar as when there is death there is no me, death either with or without dignity is just whatever.

    How’s about life with dignity? And when that is not happening, then hey…bye,bye.

    And here’s the rub.

    If you, or anyone, or anything tries to lay down what is or should be dignity for me, then you, or they, or ‘that’ has already robbed me, or sought to rob me of my dignity. And in that instance, you or they ought to have their attitude eliminated and in the instance of a ‘that’ then the ‘that’ ought to be eliminated.

    So what’s all that add up to? Obstinance, revolution or failing both of those, death?

    Something like that I guess.

    • prism 14.1

      Bill my head isn’t up to much at the moment, too near to sleeptime. I will save it for tomorrow, bright and shiny.

    • Marty G 14.2

      yeah, good anarchism but right now we get to choose whether we make people like page starve themselves to death or allow them a more decent choice.

      “insofar as when there is death there is no me, death either with or without dignity is just whatever. ”

      it’s not the after that matters, it’s the time before.

      • Bill 14.2.1

        I think if you reread my comment, you’ll see that we are saying the same thing Marty.

        I was simply exploring the issue from a living perspective as opposed to a dying one. Dignity seems a reasonable measure for whether a life is worth living.

        The question is who or what gets to decide this dignity question. I think it can only be the individual in question.

        But what if they are ignored until or suddenly become, incapable of deciding? Maybe…and I mean this tentatively ’cause it’s all off the cuff, at that point there is no question insofar as if you cannot discern dignity, it is gone. So either it does not matter one way or the other at that point and anyone can make whatever decision, or a default position containing a predetermined decision ( palliative care or euthanasia being the two possible defaults) is arrived at.

        And I’ve watched people with debilitating and fatal conditions have their dignity stripped by the thoughtlessness of those around them. Or that was my interpretation. Should I then be in a position to decide a matter of life and death? No. Should the ones who are accused of stripping dignity away? No. So should the person at the centre of it who is, after all, the only one who knows whether a sense of dignity remains intact decide? Yes.

        It’s their decision in the same way that it is my decision as to which socks I put on this morning. You might have an opinion on it, but should have no expectation of assuming executive powers over the decision.

        Having made the decision to cease living, the individual ought to be aided and abetted to whatever extent they desire.

        Will there be instances of people being killed against their will? Yes. It happens all the time right now in all manner of ways and in all manner of situations…just put on the 6 O’Clck news or read a paper. Will euthanasia change that? Of course not.

  15. prism 15

    Words Bill, ideas, they swirl round and endless discussion can be circular or turn meaningless. The point I am trying to make is that you and anybody else should be allowed to decide when you don’t want to carry on living, and start a process that will ensure your wishes are followed with you making the decisions yourself the whole way. Which would include putting on the brakes if desired, postponing till further notice etc.
    When I am closer to dying I would like to know how long the process would take. I would like to have the option of making a decision to set a date, following established guidelines and careful procedures. I won’t want arguments about whether dignity is the right word to describe anything,
    I would like the practical caring that hospice can offer to be echoed in the end-of-life care I have prior to my dying, on my chosen day – which I might extend on if I wish. The days might be beautiful and sunny, and I might want to enjoy them for some more times.

    The lady latest in the news has been disabled since 1991, and doesn’t want to carry on her life. She has probably done everything, seen everything, that she wants to and the world and her family can’t compensate her for her loss of abilities and freedom to live an active life. Her children are grown and she can’t help with their lives. Her husband talks about her objectively – ‘she’ has this, does that. He does not have the work of looking after her as she is in a nursing home being cared for by others. Now he is trying to take away what she has left, her essential right to decide her future for herself. Like all practical older people she knows that death is coming closer, she has decided to hasten it, ‘bring it on’ she thinks. Loving nursing and care is what is needed now in her last days not controversy and argument, treating her as a problem not a loved family member.

  16. the sprout 16

    Opposition to death with dignity comes from a confused theological perspective that we don’t have a right to life, but rather a duty to life.
    If we had a right to life, that would also imply the choice to not excercise that right, ie. self-termination.
    Anyone that’s nursed a loved one through a terminal illness would not think twice about the morality of granting the right to an assisted death.

  17. jcuknz 17

    As one who doesn’t expect to have much more than another twenty years, if not half that, I say the crux of the argument from a moral point of view is quality over quantity. The only person who can make that descision is the person waiting for death.

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