The dying should not have to grovel for mercy

Ann David

COLUMN

During her speech at the second reading of David Seymour’s End of Life Choice bill, MP Deborah Russell chided the public and asked for “respect and honesty” from them. Information presented to them was flawed, she said, and on both sides.

But parliamentarians themselves are notoriously dishonest with the electorate and nowhere more so than over contentious issues.

The first dishonesty is to pretend that palliative care can relieve all suffering. MPs have been shown academic reports that prove this not to be the case. Members of the affected public and several palliative care consultants and physicians have submitted that it is not the case. At the High Court, under oath in the Lecretia Seales case, palliative medicine experts admitted it was not the case. There is general, worldwide acceptance that it is not the case.

Yet the pretence rolls on in Parliament, enabling opposing MPs to argue an either/or position: either we have assisted dying or we have good palliative care. It is a false dichotomy set up and retained as an excuse to do nothing.

The second dishonesty is to pretend they are concerned that not enough has been done to support the disabled, whose situation must first be rectified lest they rush to sign up for assisted dying as an escape from difficult lives.

Pretence is made that minimal disability would make a person eligible and therefore a risk to themselves. MPs know this to be patently untrue. They know very well that a disabled person would need to meet all of the other eligibility criteria to merit consideration for assisted dying, but it suits their purpose to play dumb with the public.

A further aspect of this dishonesty is the implication that some kind of priority exists in addressing the needs of the nation: for example, firstly top-class palliative care will be rolled out to all, secondly the disabled will receive 24/7 world-class support through life, then finally perhaps we will consider legalising assisted dying for those expiring in agony. No such priority exists.

The final dishonesty is to pretend that somehow the introduction of assisted dying will lead to an increase in suicide. Not one shred of evidence supports this from any corner of the world. It is pure hypothesis and MPs know it, but cynically use New Zealand’s high suicide rates to pretend at least a connection if not a correlation.

In his own speech, Hon Andrew Little made this clear: “This is not a debate about suicide . . . This bill is about those people whose health condition is such that they have no future. They are terminal . . . They have their faculties, they are capable of making up their mind, they are capable of making a decision, and the question is whether we should allow the law as it is at the moment to stand in their way to make a decision of their choice about how they wish to meet their inevitable end.”

These and other deceits serve the purpose of those parliamentarians who allow themselves to be informed exclusively by oppositional advocacy groups.

They are not seeking facts or evidence: they are seeking arguments that pander to their own prejudices.

And in all of this dishonesty, denial and pretence, the dying wait their turn for consideration. They have no wealthy advocacy groups. They are voiceless. They are weak, resourceless, defenceless and (that currently popular word) vulnerable.

There is something repellent about having to grovel before a parliamentarian to beg for a merciful death, but the assisted dying argument places the dying patient precisely in that position.

During her speech at the second reading of David Seymour’s End of Life Choice bill, MP Deborah Russell chided the public and asked for “respect and honesty” from them. Information presented to them was flawed, she said, and on both sides.

But parliamentarians themselves are notoriously dishonest with the electorate and nowhere more so than over contentious issues.

The first dishonesty is to pretend that palliative care can relieve all suffering. MPs have been shown academic reports that prove this not to be the case. Members of the affected public and several palliative care consultants and physicians have submitted that it is not the case. At the High Court, under oath in the Lecretia Seales case, palliative medicine experts admitted it was not the case. There is general, worldwide acceptance that it is not the case.

Yet the pretence rolls on in Parliament, enabling opposing MPs to argue an either/or position: either we have assisted dying or we have good palliative care. It is a false dichotomy set up and retained as an excuse to do nothing.

The second dishonesty is to pretend they are concerned that not enough has been done to support the disabled, whose situation must first be rectified lest they rush to sign up for assisted dying as an escape from difficult lives.

Pretence is made that minimal disability would make a person eligible and therefore a risk to themselves. MPs know this to be patently untrue. They know very well that a disabled person would need to meet all of the other eligibility criteria to merit consideration for assisted dying, but it suits their purpose to play dumb with the public.

A further aspect of this dishonesty is the implication that some kind of priority exists in addressing the needs of the nation: for example, firstly top-class palliative care will be rolled out to all, secondly the disabled will receive 24/7 world-class support through life, then finally perhaps we will consider legalising assisted dying for those expiring in agony. No such priority exists.

The final dishonesty is to pretend that somehow the introduction of assisted dying will lead to an increase in suicide. Not one shred of evidence supports this from any corner of the world. It is pure hypothesis and MPs know it, but cynically use New Zealand’s high suicide rates to pretend at least a connection if not a correlation.

In his own speech, Hon Andrew Little made this clear: “This is not a debate about suicide . . . This bill is about those people whose health condition is such that they have no future. They are terminal . . . They have their faculties, they are capable of making up their mind, they are capable of making a decision, and the question is whether we should allow the law as it is at the moment to stand in their way to make a decision of their choice about how they wish to meet their inevitable end.”

These and other deceits serve the purpose of those parliamentarians who allow themselves to be informed exclusively by oppositional advocacy groups.

They are not seeking facts or evidence: they are seeking arguments that pander to their own prejudices.

And in all of this dishonesty, denial and pretence, the dying wait their turn for consideration. They have no wealthy advocacy groups. They are voiceless. They are weak, resourceless, defenceless and (that currently popular word) vulnerable.

There is something repellent about having to grovel before a parliamentarian to beg for a merciful death, but the assisted dying argument places the dying patient precisely in that position.

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Libby Smales, Hawke's Bay - 15 days ago
Absolutely, I struggle with the self-righteous, misleading scaremongering and refusal to get real about what actually happens to some of us while we die in NZ. It is hard to understand it when similar laws are working well in more enlightened jurisdictions, there is no evidence to support their claims and plenty to support the case for law change. Time to grow up.

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