Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Assisted dying in New Zealand

The Health Select Committee of the New Zealand parliament is currently considering a petition on assisted dying (i.e. voluntary euthanasia).  The petition asks:
That the House of Representatives investigate fully public attitudes towards the introduction of legislation which would permit medically-assisted dying in the event of a terminal illness or an irreversible condition which makes life unbearable.
I am strongly against such legislation so have written my first ever submission to a select committee outlining my opposition to it.  If you'd like to do the same (whether or not you oppose it), you can do so here.  Submissions need to be in by February 1st (i.e. Monday week).  The process is very simple: you click on the 'make on online submission' at the bottom of the page (having first clicked on a picture to indicate you're a human) then either type your submission into a box or upload it as a file.  You are also given the option of asking to appear before the committee to explain your views.  If you're able, I encourage you to do so: I gather they tend to pay more attention to submissions that are made in person.



The Committee wants to look into:
  1. The factors that contribute to the desire to end one’s life.
  2. The effectiveness of services and support available to those who desire to end their own lives.
  3. The attitudes of New Zealanders towards the ending of one's life and the current legal situation
  4. International experiences.
so you need to consider some or all of those things in your submission.

Here's what I wrote in mine:
I am writing to oppose the introduction of assisted dying in New Zealand.

I think that killing people is wrong, and asking the health system to kill its patients goes against the spirit of what it is for.  I am especially opposed to assisted dying were it to be applied to those who cannot speak for themselves.  I am also particularly opposed to it for people, such as myself, who live with irreversible conditions as it distracts such people away from the difficult but rewarding path of building a good life.  I have expanded these points below.

Firstly, I believe that killing is wrong and I do not wish the state to authorise doctors to kill people under any circumstances.  The role of the health system is to assist people to live well.  When the health system is no longer able to do that for a particular individual, I see nothing wrong with them withdrawing assistance; but actively causing someone's death is not the role of the health system.

I am especially opposed to the assisted dying of those unable to speak for themselves.

In my church there is a 12 year old girl who was severely brain-damaged by meningitis at the age of two.  She can't walk, eat or talk and she also has frequent fits.  My understanding is that, in the Netherlands, it would be possible for her family to have requested medical staff to assist her dying on the grounds of her poor quality of life.

The idea of killing people such as her horrifies me.  Whilst she appears to some observers to have a very poor quality of life, my understanding is that her quality of life is actually excellent: she just lives a very different life from that of most 12 year olds.  Her immediate family and their close friends speak of her as a happy kid who loves listening to music, is fond of cats and generally enjoys life.  People such as her need people to support them and their families in their unusual circumstances, rather than people who assume things are terrible for them and offer to assist them to their death.

I am also particularly opposed to assisted dying for those with an irreversible condition which makes life unbearable.

I have lived with an irreversible condition since 2003: I am largely bed-bound and require considerable assistance with activities of daily living. I live with a lot of pain and am particularly troubled by the way my illness reduces my ability to think clearly.  Last year, aside from medical appointments, I left the house only 4 times in the whole year.  Were Maryan Street's private member's bill of 2012 to have become law, I myself would have qualified for assisted dying, were I to have considered my condition to be unbearable (as many of my fellow-sufferers do).

Although my life may look terrible from the outside, I actually feel that I have a good quality of life and contribute well to my community.  Apart from the occasional very bad day, I have no desire to die.

It has taken much dedication and focus, as well as support from my community and the grace of God, for me to get to this stage.  Particularly in the early years, much of my energy was devoted to working out what supports and strategies I needed in order to live well.  I am grateful that assisted dying was not an option for me at that time.  Knowing that there was a way out would have distracted me from the important work of building a good life and working out how to be a contributing member of my society.

Most people with my illness are already badly distracted from doing such work by a futile search for a cure for their incurable illness.  Focussing on this leaves them with such a poor quality of life that many people much less severely affected than myself already see their lives as unbearable.  I fear that many of them would gladly accept assisted dying, were it to be made available to them.  Our society would be the poorer without them.  People who have learned to live well with limitations have many valuable contributions to make to society.  These contributions would be lost if we focussed on giving such people an 'easy out' rather than on supporting them to find ways to cope with and even flourish in their difficult situations.

To conclude, in summary, I think that killing people is wrong, and asking the health system to kill its patients goes against the spirit of what it is for.  I am especially opposed to assisted dying were it to be applied to those who cannot speak for themselves.  I am also particularly opposed to it for people, such as myself, who live with irreversible conditions as it distracts such people away from the difficult but rewarding path of building a good life.

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