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Former euthanasia advocate speaks against End of Life bill

#DefendNZ – the movement opposed to the End of Life Choice Bill – launches its second full-length documentary today, entitled A deadly double standard.

A deadly double standard features the story of Claire Freeman from Christchurch, who has been a tetraplegic since her neck was broken in a car accident at the age of 17.

Following four failed suicide attempts, both a psychiatrist and a psychologist at a suicide outreach clinic suggested to Claire that she go overseas for assisted suicide. They saw only her disability and assumed that her life had little value. They validated her desire to die, instead of exploring the reasons behind her desire to end her life.

But while making preparations to travel to a Swiss assisted suicide clinic, Claire realised that it wasn’t her physical condition that made her want to end her life but her lifestyle and mental health – she was depressed and traumatised by the Christchurch earthquakes.

Had assisted suicide been legal in New Zealand, Claire wouldn’t be alive today – and that scares her.

The End of Life Choice Bill, should it pass, would see situations like Claire’s regularly arise, with doctors making assumptions about the value of their patients’ lives. And it would give these doctors the power to assist in the suicides of any number of patients struggling with their mental health.

Claire says, “I find it really disheartening that euthanasia is being presented as an option because we’re better than that. We’re Kiwis. We’re about kindness. We’re about love. We’re about unity. This Bill suggests otherwise. It says to people who are seriously ill or disabled that they’re of less value.”

Legitimising the suicides of people who have “terminal” or “grievous and irremediable medical conditions” devalues these people’s lives.

Claire would be eligible for euthanasia and assisted suicide under the End of Life Choice Bill.

While her condition is currently stable, complications may arise at any time that would reduce her capability even further. Her disability involves spasms and nerve pain that can be unbearable. She is also susceptible to lung, urinary and pressure sore infections that can be life-threatening if not managed well and she needs regular assistance with bladder and bowel management to stay alive.

Many doctors would agree that Claire’s disability is a “grievous and irremediable medical condition” and that she is “in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability”. In addition, should eligibility be limited to terminal illness, Claire may become terminal (and thus become eligible under that criteria) by refusing life-sustaining cares and medical treatment. Such scenarios occur regularly in the US State of Oregon where assisted suicide is available only to terminally ill people with six months or less to live, but applied as ‘six months or less to live without medical treatment’.

Complementing Claire’s story are commentaries from Professor Margaret Somerville (Professor of bioethics, Sydney and Montreal), Mr Robert Preston (Director, Living and Dying Well, UK), and Richard McLeod (Human rights, immigrant and refugee lawyer).

Claire will be one of the speakers in the Health Central Chalk Talks Discussion on the End of Life Choice Bill this evening in Wellington. The other speakers opposing the Bill will be Sir Bill English (former Prime Minister) and Dr Leonie Herx (President of the Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians. Speaking in favour of the Bill will be David Seymour (sponsor of the Bill), Dr Jack Havill (former President of the End of Life Choice Society, formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society), and Kerri Nuku (Kaiwhakahaere for the New Zealand Nurses Organisation).

The film can be viewed at www.defendnz.co.nz/claire.


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