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 The charge of murder was later withdrawn and he pleaded guilty to a charge of procuring and inciting attempted suicide.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.