Represent us, don’t evangelise us

LETTER

MP Simon O’Connor can’t help himself! So imbued with the zeal of fundamentalist Roman Catholicism is he that he is unable to apply the rational thinking that would allow him to distinguish between the tragedy of suicide and the desirability of a peaceful death.

It was the National government which, having first heard Mr O’Connor’s tirades against assisted dying in Parliament, nevertheless put him in charge of chairing the Health Select Committee’s inquiry into New Zealanders’ views on physician-assisted dying, knowing all too well that this would be a waste of taxpayers’ money. In that privileged position, Mr O’Connor heard expert medical and psychologist opinion regarding the difference between suicide and assisted dying. He was specifically requested by deputy president of the End of Life Choice Society Jack Havill to desist from deliberately conflating the two. He heard stories from submitters every bit as tragic as the stories of those who have lost loved ones to suicide, begging the committee to soften end-of-life suffering by permitting assisted dying in certain situations. But through it all, our religious warrior has stuck to his fundamentalist guns. Schooled in a seminary, he appears to be at war with secular government.

Parliament cannot and should not accommodate religious extremists of any stripe. If they were Muslim fundamentalists, we would be quick to condemn their un-nuanced, “black and white” interpretation of the Koranic texts as the basis for parliamentary decision-making. We should do so equally when they are Christian fundamentalists.

All MPs, of course, have their own personal views and their own personal conscience that is guided by their specific culture, religious upbringing (if any), human values and their different life experience. But their views should be open to adjustment when the weight of evidence is brought before them.

We vote for MPs to represent us, not to evangelise us. We do not want to descend into theocracy; we are a democracy.

National voters, Tamaki voters, you can show your displeasure at the ballot box. Here should endeth this blinkered man’s political career.

Ann David, Waikanae

MP Simon O’Connor can’t help himself! So imbued with the zeal of fundamentalist Roman Catholicism is he that he is unable to apply the rational thinking that would allow him to distinguish between the tragedy of suicide and the desirability of a peaceful death.

It was the National government which, having first heard Mr O’Connor’s tirades against assisted dying in Parliament, nevertheless put him in charge of chairing the Health Select Committee’s inquiry into New Zealanders’ views on physician-assisted dying, knowing all too well that this would be a waste of taxpayers’ money. In that privileged position, Mr O’Connor heard expert medical and psychologist opinion regarding the difference between suicide and assisted dying. He was specifically requested by deputy president of the End of Life Choice Society Jack Havill to desist from deliberately conflating the two. He heard stories from submitters every bit as tragic as the stories of those who have lost loved ones to suicide, begging the committee to soften end-of-life suffering by permitting assisted dying in certain situations. But through it all, our religious warrior has stuck to his fundamentalist guns. Schooled in a seminary, he appears to be at war with secular government.

Parliament cannot and should not accommodate religious extremists of any stripe. If they were Muslim fundamentalists, we would be quick to condemn their un-nuanced, “black and white” interpretation of the Koranic texts as the basis for parliamentary decision-making. We should do so equally when they are Christian fundamentalists.

All MPs, of course, have their own personal views and their own personal conscience that is guided by their specific culture, religious upbringing (if any), human values and their different life experience. But their views should be open to adjustment when the weight of evidence is brought before them.

We vote for MPs to represent us, not to evangelise us. We do not want to descend into theocracy; we are a democracy.

National voters, Tamaki voters, you can show your displeasure at the ballot box. Here should endeth this blinkered man’s political career.

Ann David, Waikanae

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Renee Joubert, Executive Officer of Euthanasia-Free NZ Inc. - 2 months ago
It's disappointing that Ann David is attempting to turn the recent Health Select Committee investigation into a party political football and religion-bashing. She needs to check her facts.

Simon O'Connor was the chair of the Health Select Committee since October 2014.
Nevertheless, when Maryan Street presented her petition in June 2015 she phoned the clerk requesting that it be referred to the Health Select Committee. Labour deputy leader Annette King, also on the committee, said that she had no concerns that he would run anything other than a fair investigation. Fourteen MPs representing four political parties were voting members during this investigation.
The committee received more than 21,000 unique written submissions - a record number on any issue. They heard from 944 submitters over 108 hours of hearings.

The committee wrote in its report that 80 percent of submissions were opposed to the legalisation of assisted dying. That means that although the petition was signed by 8975 people, only about 4200 submissions were in favour of changing the law.

It's simply wrong to equate opposition to being religious and support to being secular. An independently-verified full analysis by the Care Alliance found that only 14.8 percent of submissions made any reference to religion: 13.5 percent opposed a law change and 0.93 percent supported a law change. A notable atheist submitter who opposes assisted dying is Dr Kevin Yuill, author of "Assisted Suicide: The Liberal, Humanist Case Against". A notable submitter who used religious arguments to support assisted dying was Jack Havill, president of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society.

The committee did what the petition requested: "investigate fully public attitudes to the introduction of legislation that would permit medically-assisted dying". Their report is a balanced summary of what Ann David refers to as "the weight of evidence brought before them".

On the connection between suicide and assisted dying, the committee wrote on page 43 of its report:
"Most advocates of assisted dying argued that suicide and assisted dying should not be conflated. They often made a distinction between some forms of suicide and others, suggesting that they can be categorised as either 'rational' or 'irrational'. This distinction was not supported by any submitters working in the field of suicide prevention or grief counselling. On the contrary, we heard from youth counsellors and suicide prevention organisations that suicide is always undertaken in response to some form of suffering, whether that is physical, emotional or mental. All forms are deliberate and intentional. It was pointed out by a few submitters that when the media cover assisted dying stories, they always accompany the story with suicide prevention contact details."

The committee recommended that everyone reads its report in full. It is available at http://tiny.cc/HSCreport

Martin Hanson - 2 months ago
I have just one question for Renee Joubert: Why is it morally wrong for a person dying of a terminal disease to commit suicide? I'd welcome an answer that doesn't invoke God.

Renee Joubert - 2 months ago
Martin Hanson, this debate is not about whether it's right or wrong for individuals to die by suicide, whether they are terminally ill or not.

Suicide is not a crime in New Zealand.
The debate is about whether criminal law should be changed to allow a person to intentionally help someone else end their life (assisted suicide, which is also known by several euphemisms including 'assisted dying').

The debate is not about what's right or wrong in an individual case. The debate is about whether the law should change.

Even people to whom a law wouldn't directly apply are still affected by that law. There are many examples in the current election debate. For example, a water tax would apply only to some farmers or producers, but other New Zealanders would be affected too if such a tax causes prices of products to rise.

A law permitting assisted suicide would also affect people who don't choose to use it to die. The law becomes society's conscience and affects how we think about people and care for them.

Palliative care doctors say it's common for terminally ill people to feel depressed, hopeless, afraid of being a burden, afraid of the future, and that life is meaningless. A terminally ill person and their loved ones go through a grief process. However, with good holistic care and support, including psychological care and treatment for depression if needed, terminally ill people usually get to a place of wanting to live as long as they can.

I am convinced that the desire to die is not dependent on physical diagnoses or symptoms, but on changeable emotional and existential reasons to which death is not an appropriate response.

Ann David - 2 months ago
The question is actually whether or not prolonged suffering should continue to be legally enforced on a person, irrespective of his/her situation.

On the one hand is the case of a person who is suffering excruciatingly from a mental or physical condition that could be relieved with the right care and treatment. Such a person deserves every effort, every expense that society can offer to turn his/her situation around.

On the other hand is the case of a person who is suffering excruciatingly from a mental or physical condition that has absolutely no hope of reversal or abatement and whose suffering in the days between now and death will only increase beyond the unbearable. Such a person deserves, in my view, the right to choose to continue the suffering or to curtail it by seeking an earlier relief through death.

Palliative care doctors do indeed say "it's common for terminally ill people to feel depressed, hopeless, afraid of being a burden, afraid of the future, and that life is meaningless". They are quite right and most patients can be encouraged to make the best of the time they have left under their excellent care.

But, if the palliative care hierarchy were as honest as many palliative care practitioners are, they would admit that there is a small number of patients for whom there is no relief. Palliative Care in Australia, for example, openly acknowledge that. Palliative care workers in New Zealand acknowledge that. I myself have seen an example of palliative carers' inability to assuage suffering in the case of my mother's death - not their fault, they did absolutely everything they could, but her death was simply frightful for her and therefore frightful for us.

Under these circumstances, should such a person be forced (e.g. by you) to endure those final days/weeks of prolonged suffering? How do you/the criminal justice system morally justify this purposeful cruelty?

While you may well be "convinced that the desire to die is not dependent on physical diagnoses or symptoms, but on changeable emotional and existential reasons to which death is not an appropriate response", other people think differently.

This brings me back to the difference between suicide (first case) and rational desire for a peaceful death (second case). They are different because the one can be addressed and the other cannot.

Renee Joubert - 2 months ago
Ann David, Sorry to read that your mother's death was frightful for her and you. What medical condition was she receiving care for? Was she cared for by a specialist palliative care team? Did she die in a Hospice?

Palliative care has come a long way in the past few years. I also understand that it's an approach that's holistic and highly personalised, available to people from the time they are diagnosed as having a life-limiting condition. I would expect everyone to receive benefit from it, especially if specialist services are accessed in a timely manner.

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