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Copeland Speech: Death With Dignity Bill

Copeland Speech: Death With Dignity Bill

Gordon F Copeland MP

30 July 2003

Mr Speaker

I rise to speak on the Death with Dignity Bill.

I find that I cannot say those words without my mind immediately going to the little nun from Albania who devoted her life to taking the dying from the filth and squalor of the streets of Calcutta into a specially prepared home where they were lovingly washed, clothed, and cared for until the last moment of their life.

As the news of her work spread firstly throughout India and then throughout the world Mother Theresa was asked repeatedly why she had made the decision to undertake such work. Her reply was simply to say "So that these people can die with the dignity that should be accorded to all human beings."

Can any of us forget her passing, just a few weeks after the funeral of Princess Diana, when monarchs, presidents and prime ministers came to a funeral organised by the world's second most populated nation to honour one of the great saints of our age.

I can say, without fear of contradiction, that if Mother Theresa were here tonight it would be to plead with us not to vote for this bill. For in spite of its name in truth this bill does not point the way towards death with dignity but to physician-assisted suicide.

A similar plea would be made to us by the thousands of doctors and nurses and helpers who make up the worldwide hospice movement. They too have devoted their lives to the palliative ongoing medical care of those whose condition means that they are approaching the end of their lives.

I know that to be true for I have received many letters from them, couched in the most moving terms, asking me to vote against this bill. It is a contradiction of all that they stand for.

They tell me that they employ expertise to ensuring that people are able to die with dignity. They tell me of the enormous progress they have made in controlling pain and ask us to give our support to their attempts to kill the pain, not, by a deliberate action, to kill the patient.

History also will be our judge tonight. Three and a half millennia have passed since, through the Jews, this world received the gift of the Ten Commandments.

One of those commandments states simply "You shall not kill". This bill breaks that commandment.

Two and a half millennia have passed since the emergence of the Hippocratic Oath which specifically states "I will use no medicine to kill my patients, even if requested to do so".

This bill breaks that oath.

The importance of the Hippocratic Oath cannot be overstated. It was the gift of the Greeks to civilisation. It set the physician aside as a person whose sole vocation was to heal, never to kill. Prior to that what we these days call witch doctors had carried with them the power both to heal and to dispatch, so that they were regarded with a mixture of awe and fear, but never with trust.

The Hippocratic Oath changed all that and is fundamental to the trust and esteem in which we hold the medical profession. That trust will be breached and lost for ever should this bill become law.

People, and particularly the elderly, will once again begin to fear the doctor

This bill is dressed up in attractive and emotional clothes. The reality of however is set out in Clause 4, which authorises a medical practitioner to "assist" a person to end their life by the "administration of a substance to the patient". In other words a lethal injection or similar.

The Medical Association of New Zealand strongly opposes this bill.

According to both Paul Rishworth, co-author of the book "The NZ Bill of Rights", and to Attorney General Margaret Wilson, this bill is contrary to the right not to be deprived of life enshrined in the NZ Bill of Rights Act.

On behalf of all those I have mentioned and the many other thousands of New Zealanders of like mind, I too enter my plea here tonight in Parliament for your vote against this bill.

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