The Right to Choose

There are some things that I care about, somethings that I don’t and a few that I  care strongly about.  One of these is the right to die with dignity.

Now I don’t want to upset anybody with this post.  I have friends who are bitterly opposed to a change to the law that would allow one to make an end of life choice under certain circumstances.

Here in New Zealand this is a hotly debated subject.  There have been a number of cases where people have been charged with assisting suicide and in some cases have served jail sentences.

Currently, we have an Member of Parliament who proposes to introduce  an “end of life choice” private member’s bill to Parliament in about a month’s time.  According to the NZ Parliament website “Members’ bills are bills introduced by Members who are not Ministers. Every second Wednesday the House gives precedence to Local, Private, and Members’ bills. On these days Members’ bills are debated.

Only six Members’ bills awaiting first reading can be on the Order Paper on each Members’ day. When a space on the Order Paper becomes available, a ballot is held to decide which Members’ bill(s) will be introduced. Members enter bills in the ballot by lodging notices of intention on the day of the ballot.”

Maryann Street the proposer of the Bill has stated that the bill aims to provide end-of-life choices for people with terminal illness and irrecoverable conditions which make life impossible.   She emphasised the inclusion of protections within the proposed legislations for those wanting to die and those involved in the process.

The patient had to be of sound mind when making the choice and protected from coercion. This would be attested by doctors. There was also protection against the decision being overturned if the person was later unable to express their view.

“Similarly there must be protection against criminal liability-protection for family members who are asked, like Sean Davison** to do the unthinkable.”

**People who had lived autonomous lives should also be allowed to be autonomous during the end of their lives, she said.

In 2010 Davison, 50, a microbiologist based in Cape Town, South Africa, was charged with attempting to murder his terminally ill mother Patricia Elizabeth Davison, 85, a former medical practitioner, in 2006. The charge of murder was later withdrawn and he pleaded guilty to a charge of procuring and inciting attempted suicide.

The charges apparently stemmed from various emails and manuscripts Davison wrote about nursing his mother for her final three months. She died on October 25, 2006 at her home in Broad Bay on the Otago Peninsula (NZ)

Davison recounted how his mother had tried to starve herself to death but was still alive after 33 days. She was in pain and discomfort and asked him and others repeatedly to help her die.  He described giving her a drink of water containing crushed morphine tablets.

In her “living will”, Patricia, a retired doctor and psychologist, wrote to her four children: “My quality of life can only deteriorate. I do not wish for a protracted, disagreeable death and I think I can count on all of you in supporting me in this.”

The other side of the argument here in NZ is currently being led by John Kleinsman, the director of the Nathaniel Centre.  He is reported as saying

“I don’t think there is any law that can adequately protect against the risks. In fact the law would remove the most protective barrier.”

He launched a scathing attack on the Government’s inadequate funding of palliative care,  saying it was driving people to assisted suicide. If people could be assured of death without agony the voluntary euthanasia debate would be redundant, he said.

“Until every New Zealander has access to high quality palliative care I think it’s unethical to introduce euthanasia. Choosing to die can never be fully voluntary in a society that doesn’t provide palliative care options.”

Kleinsman also criticised rest home care, saying rest homes needed to “lift their game”.

Other considerations in the debate included societal changes such as the increase in elder abuse, and families living long distances from elderly or disabled relatives who believed they were a burden which encouraged life-ending decisions.

“Relaxing the law is fraught with possibilities for abuse. The right to die would very quickly become a duty to die.”  He said.

So where to you stand on this question?  Personally, I support the right to an end of life choice.  Having seen many people at the end of their lives, existing but not living I think it is important that people of sound mind, be given the opportunity to decide when enough is enough.  I certainly hope that my family will respect my desire to die with dignity; not being forced to live a vegetative life, being force-fed or worse still, being in pain and knowing that this is how I have to exist until a merciful god or other intervention decides it is time for me to leave.

My children are in no doubt how I feel on this subject.  It will be hotly debated for many months and maybe years to come here even if the bill is entered into Parliament.  I suspect it will be a conscience choice for Members of Parliament if it comes to a vote, rather than a party line.  I shall be following this bill with interest.

19 responses to “The Right to Choose

  1. Hmmmn, this is a heavy one …
    Personally I would like the right to choose but I don’t know nearly enough about what might happen to make an informed decision. Hubby says I give up to easily, is this just another way of giving up and not fighting it out to “the bitter end” … but there again, do I really want the end to be “bitter” ?
    Hmmmn indeed. 🙂


  2. I think the right to choose should be considered a genuine and valid path for those who wish to take it.


  3. They say most use over 75% of their life’s medical expenditure in the last year or so of life which is ending. Can break the family financially and burn up whatever estate would have been left. This may sound selfish for heirs but why should the facility get the money? Everyone should understand the need for end of life planning. Makes it less traumatic for loved ones.

    I have planned burial too. As a mason I will be cremated and daughter is instructed to throw ashes over the Broad Causeway bridge. I told her to make sure the wind is at her back so the ashes don’t blow back and get run over by cars so I won’t be killed twice.


    • n a lighter note – a friend was dispersing his father’s ashes at sea and went to the wrong side of the boat. And yes, he got covered in the ashes. So I am glad that your daughter has been instructed to check the wind.


  4. Very though provoking, Judith. I understand the arguements on both sides but I’ve seen what long, incurable illness can do to a person and to the family so I agree with you.

    The big worry, of course is with the aging population and the current youth-focused society and the high costs of care whether there might be abuses but I would hope the system can be designed to prevent that.


    • Unfortunately Thomas, I think there will always be abuses, but I also think it is abuse to make one live out an unbearable life. Thanks for the comment. The discussion on this subject will range for many more years.


  5. I so agree with the way you’ve expressed this here. I’m pretty sure Holland passed legislation in favour of this years ago and it works beautifully.


    • Several years ago when I was in England, I saw a television programme about a man who suffered some dreadful illness that only allowed him to blink his eyes and swallow. His family took him to Holland and the assisted suicide that is offered. The people in Holland were very caring and considerate both to the sufferer and his family. A peaceful ending for them all. But when they returned to the UK they were arrested. I don’t know what the outcome was but ….


  6. I’m with you Judith – as usual. I would prefer the right to choose. My Living Will says pull the plug – no artificial means to sustain life. However, I would wish for more so as not to wait for nature to take its course, but to be able to help things along to end prolonged misery.


  7. I agree with your choice as I would want it to be my choice.


  8. I am for the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness . . . including the right to die with dignity


  9. Interesting and worthy of debate. I would like to think I would respect someone’s wish to die, but I fear I would have a hard time letting them go. As for me, I’d rather not think about it.


    • It is easy to say what we would like done for us but if one of my family or friends asked me to assist them to die I don’t know how I would respond.


  10. I, too, am concerned with who does the deciding, and at what point…it’s a scary issue, really.


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