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Your life, your choice

Written By: - Date published: 1:29 pm, March 29th, 2012 - 29 comments
Categories: health - Tags:

The right to choose to end our lives is back on the political agenda with Maryan Street’s private member’s bill on euthanasia going into the ballot. If it’s drawn, it will be the third time in 17 years such a Bill has come up. The first one was voted down 2 to 1, the next lost by 3 votes. This time, success seems highly likely.

Here’s NoRightTurn’s take

Euthanasia is a perennial topic of member’s bills. In 1995, then-National MP Michael Laws proposed the Death With Dignity Bill. It was voted down 61 to 29. In 2003, NZ First’s Peter Brown had another go, losing 60 – 57. The bill was in the ballot again for the subsequent Parliamentary term, but was never drawn. And now the issue is back for another go, this time led by Labour’s Maryan Street:

Labour list MP Maryan Street, who is working on a private member’s bill that would legalise some end-of-life options, told TV ONE’s Breakfast that the public attitude about euthanasia has changed.[…]

Street said her bill was “about autonomy, it’s about dignity and most of all it’s about compassion”.

“More and more people are looking to have the kind of control at the end of their life that they like to have during their life,” she said.

There’s more details about the bill here.

As I’ve said before, I support death with dignity. It is a matter of fundamental personal autonomy. Our lives belong to us, not to some imaginary sky fairy. We should not have to starve ourselves to death if we wish to end them, or have to ask our friends to risk prosecution if we are incapable even of that. The law should provide for it (with appropriate safeguards, of course).

This is also I think an issue which could succeed this term. The margin of defeat has been narrowing over the years, as religious people have died off and social acceptance of euthanasia has grown. And with a strong generational shift in National, I think support will have increased enough to get it over the line. The question now is whether it will be drawn from the ballot…

And here’s Maryan Street

End of Life Choice bill  (TVNZ Breakfast Show video from today)

I am preparing a bill which I am calling “End of Life Choice”. It arose out of a meeting in Nelson last year with a group of people who all want to be able to exercise the same control over the end of their lives as they are enjoying during their lives. It is as much about human rights as it is about dignity, autonomy and compassion.

Three levels of protection are necessary:

1 – for the patient or person themselves – from family who would either exploit them or overturn their wishes in extremis, and from insurance companies or anyone else who might exploit them;

2 – for any attending physicians, and there would need to be 2 – from any coercion to breach their own ethics or criminal liability if all procedures were observed;

3 – for any family members who assist in the final moments – from criminal liability.

The first time this was voted on was 1995 (Michael Laws’ bill), it was defeated 61-29. The second time, in 2003 (Peter Brown’s bill), it was defeated 60-57  and of the three who made the difference,  two did not vote  (John Tamihere and Heather Roy) and one abstained (Dail Jones). It will always be a conscience vote.

I think the time has come for this question to be revisited. I think the social conversation needs to happen again. I think the numbers would be different this time.

Am I right?

29 comments on “Your life, your choice ”

  1. I think she’s right on this. A great deal of care needs to be taken, it’s a difficult and emotional topic. But ultimately it should be an individual’s choice providing there are sufficient safeguards in place regarding certainty and potential coercion (I think that’s overstated).

    The bill as presented seems like a good starting point for the “social conversation”.

  2. ianmac 2

    It is probable that those who strenuously oppose “Your Life,Your Choice” are living healthy people. It is a bit hard to get a reply from those who are dead, but I am sure that those of us who are aging would be a little more likely to have an opinion on the right to choose. Perhaps a vote should be taken with one vote for people under 60.
    2 votes for those who are 65.
    3 votes for those who are 70.
    4 votes for those who are 75.
    And so on.

    • ianmac 3.1

      Weird and impractical grumpy. Probably simpler to have a roundabout spinning faster and faster but no thanks. Lacks dignity.

  3. I imagine that compulsory euthanasia will be on Nact’s agenda if they get a third term, do you know how much old sick people cost the public health service! Oh, wait, the public health service will be extinct by the time they get to pass such a bill. Nevermind.

    • Roy 4.1

      But they’d be killing off the people who vote for them! Nact would rather raise the voting age, deny beneficiaries the right to vote, take the vote off women…and ultimately limit voting to white male land-owners.

      • shreddakj 4.1.1

        Don’t forget that ideology trumps self preservation in National’s playbook (unusual behaviour for politicians). Most of their heartland supporters oppose asset sales and selling farms overseas but they do it anyway.

        • Rusty Shackleford

          Sigh… so dumb. If National were ostensibly right wing (which they aren’t) they would be for personal choice. If anything, it would be Labour who would be for euthanasia as they would be more likely be for central planning (which they aren’t). Which leads us to the inevitable realistation that the left/right, tory/pinko, National/Labour divide has zero meaning.

          What we have is a statist/freedom divide. Both National and Labour are in favour of statism they only differ in who they want to take money off and who they want to give money to.

          • shreddakj

            Yeah there’s absolutely no difference between right and left! Capitalism and socialism are the same thing! Get real.

            • Rusty Shackleford

              National aren’t (free market) capitalist, Labour aren’t socialist. Yet we call them left and right. It’s a false dichotomy that isn’t valuable as a descriptive device and probably never was. Yet, we persist in shouting false epithets at each other. How boring.

    • The Baron 4.2

      That sort of moronic, partisan nutjobery does nothing to help this sort of legislation proceed.

      • shreddakj 4.2.1

        I thought it was obvious that the comment was in jest. I completely support this legislation.

        • Pete George

          Why don’t you give it the seriousness it deserves then.

          Hopefully if this gets picked in a ballot it will be a conscience vote and given due respect by all MPs.

        • The Baron

          Then please excuse me.

          The frankly idiotic “kill off the unwanted” argument has been trotted out worldwide as a reason for opposing legislation like this. Your joke does noone any favours.

          • shreddakj

            Yes, and it’s a stupid argument. Governments murdering ‘unwanted’ people has nothing to do at all with the right to dignity in death. Anyone with half a brain would realise that. I’ll try my best not to offend your delicate sensibilities in the future.

            • felix

              As a moron I’m deeply upset by your remarks. Also, I’m very worried that Obama, a muslim, will use legislation like this to kill us all.

  4. Olwyn 5

    I will restate a few points that I made on Red Alert. Firstly, given the common obsession with efficiency and cost-cutting, any safeguards would be under pressure almost from the outset. Secondly, liberal law changes that are welcomed by middle class people with free an independent lives can prove oppressive to people whose lives are not free and independent. It is easy to dismiss such people as reactionary and uneducated, but a level of conservatism on certain issues offers them a level of protection against exploitation by others. I fear that legally endorsed euthanasia would remove one of those levels of protection, especially if the safeguards were incrementally eroded, or assumed as a background condition of other policies, such as care for the elderly.

    Labour should be more mindful of this sort of situation, since the liberal and working class left are very much open to divide-and-rule tactics, for the above mentioned reason. Look the smacking bill, and the name-calling it evoked; the nice, liberal police versus the unwashed policed. In the seventies, these two groups were able to work together because the working class’s livelihood was not under threat. Now it is, and I would much rather see Labour fighting for affordable housing, or similar, than voluntary euthanasia. When you even have Pete George clapping his feet in support, you have to wonder just how boldly left wing this move really is.

  5. Olwyn 6

    My mother also died of cancer, and my brother, sister and I nursed her in the final stages and were with her at the end. None, of us, including my mother, would have been inclined to consider euthanasia – the time we had left together was too valuable to us. Sorry if I offended you Pete, but I get suspicious when policies that seem, prima facie, controversial, are too readily accepted.

    • Uturn 6.1

      Not only your mother would be uninclined to consider it. It seems strange that in a multicultural society, that a supposed educated and open-minded party would present something so euro-centric and pandering to a minority that often finds it has extra-legal powers anyway. I mean, I can understand the now cliché academic sneer at religions e.g. “sky fairy” (even though I find it stupid and that it does not represent academics outside of politics), I can understand the attempt to imply politicians are capable of discovering philosophical truths (even though they can’t see outside their own electoral terms, spot corruption or help their own lies) but to prejudice “social conversation” with the ultimate goal of reducing human life to a legal convenience – with an absolute certainty – is eagerly drilling through the bottom of the intellectual barrel, somewhat.

      The argument that those who don’t want to use it don’t have to, clashes with the concept of multiculturalism, actively divides voters across all socio-economic groups and opens up all sorts of unintended questions on liberal beliefs about life and the legitimacy of government in private matters; least of all, that a centralised, adversarial, based on an old English aristocratic hierarchy, barely democratic, agnostic atheistic government can actually justly or morally govern a people with vastly different beliefs.

      No one knows for certain – outside of faith based beliefs – what happens after death, or if suicide in any form is excusable, or even if we are “our brothers keeper” or not. If I were going to try to find out, none of our current MPs would be invited to attend the meeting in a speaking or decision making role. It would be a job for communities with the assistance of others such as theologians, philosophers, people who had experienced near death, people who had killed on battlefields, doctors, historians and psychotherapists. Our system isn’t set up for that. Power is centralised and guarded. The best that MPs will ever come up with is a not very well thought out band-aid, that not very surprisingly will open the door to the gradual degradations you have suggested.

      The problem is that real life circumstances often have no comfortable reply. If a god-less capitalist had spent all their lives denying age and sickness and focusing only on accumulating money at the cost of spiritual wealth – wealth that may have had them face a painful death with courage – I would excuse their inability to take responsibility for their choices in life and look the other way while they sent themselves home. Who knows what sort of crime against the universe I would commit by doing that – forced into it by a compassion for people even, if they are selfish ignorant people, but none the less totally responsible for it. No doubt about it, the self interest of our egos is the gift that keeps on destroying. But I wouldn’t then risk the immoral jump to support my choice with legislative changes; and if I happened to be on the jury of a trial where a doctor had assisted, or a relative knew well before hand, I’d use all my abilities to cover up my prejudice of non-interference and find them not guilty. With the really big questions about life, and in the abscence of an official collective moral code, sometimes an unofficial cultural response is what is required to illustrate the compromise between compassion for a painful reality, the limitations of human knowledge and justice.

    • Olwyn 6.2

      When I said “my brother, sister and I,” looked after my mother, I should have acknowledged other family members, friends and close neighbours, who loved mum and were there for her as well.

      Uturn, “No doubt about it, the self interest of our egos is the gift that keeps on destroying.” is an apposite line.

  6. Reagan Cline 7

    I agree with Nelson GP Joseph Hassan. My concern is that euthanasia requires the cooperation of at least one other person. I have thought about killing myself if I were dying and the dying was causing suffering to my wife and children. I have the knowledge and the means to do this, but I probably would not, because my wife and children might guess what I had done and blame themselves. I certainly would not ask them to kill me. I would hope though that efforts were not made to keep me going when I and those around me had reconciled themselves to the inevitable and stayed with me to comfort me and if necessary adminisrer adequate pain relief. I do not support this bill and would not consent to assisting in euthanasia. I have been with people as they died and I know that death without euthanasia can be dignified (“death with dignity”) and full of the deepest truth and power.

  7. Rusty Shackleford 8

    “Our lives belong to us…”

    So hypocritical. Our lives belong to us… except when it comes to our time, our land, our money, our (insert statist pet project here)

    • Draco T Bastard 8.1

      Nope. Our actions that affect others should be regulated. It’s actually the libertarians that are hypocritical as they want the freedom to do what they want without others having a say which is pure oppression as it removes peoples say in their own lives.

      • Rusty Shackleford 8.1.1

        “…actions that affect others should be regulated.”
        This isn’t very helpful. All actions effect others. I know you are for govt control of every part of society, but this isn’t a logical rationale for doing so.

        “libertarians that are hypocritical as they want the freedom to do what they want without others having a say”
        Can you give an example? Or are you just assigning values to things you find threatening to your world view, again.

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