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Maxim Real Issues No. 168, 4 AUGUST 2005

Maxim Real Issues No. 168, 4 AUGUST 2005

Who decides?

No interest: is this the answer?

Protecting the vulnerable

Have your say

Upcoming Political Forums in August

Who decides?

It might seem unlikely that there is a close connection between the Constitution of the United States and the Treaty of Waitangi. However a recent article in the New York Times by Stanley Fish, a former professor of English and now a professor of law, might cause one to think.

In a comment on the replacement of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court, Fish points out that the Constitution is not a 'living document'. He goes on to say, "If interpreting the Constitution - as opposed to rewriting it - is what you want to do, you are necessarily an 'intentionalist', someone who is trying to figure out what the framers had in mind. Intentionalism is not a style of interpretation, it is another name for interpretation itself".

This might well contradict post-modern relativism and critical theory (which suggest that the author's intent is not the key factor in interpreting a document), but that is quite beside the point. The critical issue is not what we make of an old legal document, but rather what did its author intended. Failure to come to grips with the authors' intention is not only a failure of interpretation, it is an act of rewriting which the concept of a 'living document' encourages.

While we continue to debate the meaning of the Treaty of Waitangi we might consider whether there are insights to be gained from the debate on the interpretation on the US Constitution.

To read Fish's article in full, please visit:

No interest: is this the answer?

Last week saw Labour follow closely behind National in announcing its policy on student loans. Labour's second key election pledge is to abolish interest on student loans for students who remain in New Zealand after they graduate.

Economists from two major banks - Westpac and The National Bank - have expressed concern that this proposal would cost a lot more than predicted. Labour estimates this policy will cost approximately $300 million (per annum), but Mr O'Donovan (Westpac) and Dr McDermott (The National Bank) have suggested it could be as much as $1 billion (per annum).

Earlier this year Labour said it was not likely to make major changes to student loan policies unless "the country struck oil, and we were guaranteed economic security for the next 50 years". Based on this, perhaps we can believe a solution to New Zealand's energy problem has been found?

As with many of the policies different parties have been suggesting, the likely consequences do not appear to have been considered. The requirement for students to pay interest on their loan, was an incentive for them to consider careful the suitability and worth of a course before starting it and taking out a loan. The policy reduces the incentive for a student to pay their loan back quickly, as interest is not accrued. This fundamentally misunderstands human nature.

Protecting the vulnerable

The New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA) has this week voted to retain its current position opposing euthanasia. The official policy of the NZMA states they are opposed to "both the concept and practice of euthanasia and doctor-assistance suicide". The Association goes on to state that "euthanasia, that is the act of deliberately ending the life of a patient, even at the patient's request or at the request of close relatives, is unethical".

The NZMA's policy is in line with the World Medical Association's position on euthanasia but differs from a recent decision of the British Medical Association.

In June, the British Medical Association narrowly passed a resolution that it should "not oppose legislation which alters the criminal law but should press for robust safeguards both for patients and for doctors who do not wish to be involved in such procedures". The BMA now neither oppose nor support campaigns for euthanasia.

At the heart of euthanasia is an assumption that there is a certain point at which a human becomes worthless. It fails to recognise that human value is not determined by what a person can do and whether they are useful, but that dignity exists, in being. Those in the medical profession have a responsibility to protect the weakest and most vulnerable in our society, and by maintaining their stance against euthanasia the NZMA have done just that.

Read an article, "Life not worthy of life", from Maxim Institute's winter edition of Evidence:

Have your say

The Sunday Star-Times has launched 'The Great Morality Debate', to discover what New Zealanders think about traditional moral virtues. The survey can be completed by visiting:

Upcoming Political Forums in August
Dunedin Friday, 5 August
East Auckland Monday, 8 August
Tauranga Thursday, 11 August
Hastings Saturday, 13 August
Taupo Monday, 15 August
Snells Beach Wednesday, 17 August
Blenheim Friday, 19 August
To read more about these and other events, please visit:

THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK - Will and Ariel Durant

No one man, however brilliant or well-informed, can come in one lifetime to such fullness of understanding as to safely judge and dismiss the customs or institutions of his society, for these are the wisdom of generations after centuries of experiment in the laboratory of history.

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