End of Life Choice Bill Debate
The End of Life Choice Bill in the name of David Seymour has been sent to a select committee for consideration by 76 votes to 44.
It is the third time Parliament has voted on the issue in recent decades and the first time such a Bill has made it over the first hurdle.
Then, as now, the debates mainly centred around two points.
Those in favour argue an individual should have right of medical assistance to end their life in some circumstances. Seymour’s Bill proposes giving “people with a terminal illness or a grievous and irremediable medical condition the option of requesting assisted dying”. It proposes a number of safeguards saying the person must be of a “sound state of mind”, and near death or diagnosed with an untreatable disease. The process also requires signing off by two doctors.
Those against argue about the sanctity of life and the need for the law to protect a right to life. They contend watering down this protection in anyway is wrong and dangerous.
There are also those who can see validity in the right of an individual to get assistance to die in some circumstances, but fear it would be abused and end in those with disabilities, depression and other factors choosing to end their life, or even be pressured into doing so.
All those arguments were raised in Parliament tonight.
NZ First said their position was such a fundamental change in law should only be decided by referendum, so therefore supported the Bill to select committee so a final proposal could be decided upon and decided in a referendum.
Seymour and Bill English were representative of the main arguments for and against, excerpts from their speeches are below.
It is not pleasant to talk about painful death but when our country's laws do not work it is incumbent upon us to have that discussion. Our laws surrounding end of life choice currently do not work and we must improve them.
A person at the end of their life, suffering badly and unable to be helped by palliative care can commit amateur violent suicide. We know from extensive studies of the coronial records of this country that five percent to eight percent of New Zealand's suicides were by people who were dying and wanted to take control of the end of their life. They didn't want to die. They weren't depressed. They weren't suicidal but they knew what was coming and they wanted control.
There's a second option that is not only legal but enshrined in our New Zealand Bill of Rights Act here in New Zealand, the right to refuse treatment including food and water. Remember there are no safeguards when you make that choice. There is no accountability mechanism but it happens legally,
The third option is involuntary euthanasia and surveys of the doctors in New Zealand by Auckland University medical school tell us that 4½ percent of New Zealanders who die, die when they are informally euthanized, given pain medication with the express intent of ending their life.
A final option is none of the above, you just suffer until the bitter end, writhing in a body that lives on but gives no comfort. I know people in this room have watched it happen and said "Never again." That colleagues, is the moral case for this bill. It is wrong that in 2017 under the laws made by this House we tolerate a status quo where people suffer needlessly. We allow under our laws violent amateur suicide, barbaric suffering, and informal euthanasia, all perfectly legal, but the choice that we don't allow is the person in question who is suffering at the end of their life to make a choice, make their choice, safeguarded under the rule of law. The current situation is absurdity.
I rise to oppose this bill principally for the reason that this House has defeated such legislation twice in the last two decades, and it is this: that it removes a principle at the core of the law written to protect everybody, and particularly the most vulnerable, and that is the blanket prohibition against taking the life of another. That is at the core of our criminal law that protects everybody, particularly the most vulnerable. In removing that prohibition, which has been in our law for as long as this country has existed, this Parliament is taking a huge step.
We've all had the experience—I know I have—or know about the experience, of witnessing the suffering, the fear, and the anxiety of a dying person and those around them and, sometimes, a difficult death. Alongside that personal connection, we have to weigh up, in our role as law makers—not just as parents or children or siblings or friends of those who we've seen die, but as law makers. Our role is not principally to alleviate suffering; our role is to ensure that our society has a set of laws that protect those who most need protection.
Did you know that in our law, section 179 of the Crimes Act, it is a crime to induce the suicide of another person, even if they don't actually commit it—even if they don't actually commit it? Why is that there? Because we don't want people encouraging a depressed disabled young person that their life isn't worth anything. As law makers, the reason there is a blanket prohibition is because "you" are not always the best judge of the value of your life, and the price that our community pays for enabling a doctor to take your life, free of criminal scrutiny, is that many other people are more vulnerable. Their lives will become more fearful, and they'll become more subject to the pressure to make the judgment themselves that their life has less value and therefore they should make the decision. It is a slippery slope. That is why this bill, with its cold technical bureaucratic process of death, tries to look like it's safe.
I put the case that as law makers that is the question that we need to weigh up: is the gain in personal autonomy—because the research shows people embark on euthanasia principally for autonomy reasons; they may not be suffering that much—worth the broader cost to our community?