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Op-Ed EOLC Act Referendum

I am a nurse of over 35 years’ experience, I have worked in palliative care since the mid-1990s and I have a Masters’ Degree in Palliative Care. I stand, and nurse, by the World Health Organisation statement that palliative care neither hastens nor postpones death. I do support those who are dying to make the most of life by giving them the best quality I can.

Some of the phrases that have been adopted by the pro-choice group are ‘dying with dignity’, and ‘compassionate care’ – phrases that have been the cornerstone of the care I have given in my nursing life. In palliative care we strive to offer dignity and compassion to all who come into our care – patients and whānau alike. And we have succeeded on both counts, without ending anyone’s life prematurely.

Palliative Care is not perfect. It does not have all the answers. But those who work in the area, which is seriously underfunded, do make a huge difference.
On funding – is it not ironic that hospices and other areas that offer palliative care will continue to have to fight for funding, will continue to rely heavily on fundraising in their communities , while those offering to simply kill people will be fully funded…

Some proponents of the EOLC Act will tell you that because I work in a hospice, I object only due to religious reasons. Anyone who knows me will tell you that is certainly not true. I don’t have any religious beliefs.

Let me be clear, I am not objecting to euthanasia. Personally, I would not ever be able to participate in it but I understand those who wish to have that choice. What I so passionately object to is this particular Act. Why? Because it is dangerous. It is poorly written, and it does not protect the vulnerable in our society. The vulnerable that I have so often cared for as a nurse. In particular, the elderly and those with disabilities.

Pro-choice people will tell you that the protections in the Act are sufficient to protect those who may feel pressured or coerced. I have witnessed a number of acts of coercion, in particular with elderly patients, and those are only the obvious ones. There are far more subtle forms of coercion that are incredibly hard to detect. You think not? Ask any Age Concern agency that works with Elder Abuse how easy it is to detect. Subtle, repeated, encouragements over time have a powerful effect. Heard of ‘gaslighting’? Coercion in another form.

I have heard elderly people say that they are “just a burden”, that their families would be “better off without me”. And the moment they have a diagnosis that suggests they may have less than six months to live they would be able to act on that, without even telling their family. And that is under the current proposed legislation – I promise you that within five years this will have extended further. Every single country that has legalised euthanasia has extended their rules, has exposed more and more people to this option.

Six months to live? Nobody can predict that. We might think they have weeks to months, or months to years, but to be able to say that this person will otherwise die within six months is simply not humanly, or medically, possible.

And too many examples exist of people who were told they had a short finite period only to be happily with us some years later.

Choice? What choice does someone have when they cannot get the care they should be able to access in their own home, because no agency can meet their need? When the simple basics you and I take for granted are not available to them because they need too much care? When they are limited by location, income, knowledge, ability to advocate for themselves? When they are just too tired to fight for themselves any longer? And this happens in New Zealand now. Too many people do not get the basic care they should be entitled to.

I admit to feeling angry when I see someone well-known saying they will vote yes because they are unwell, and they want the right to choose their end date. Inside I scream “Selfish! It isn’t just about you!” But I know they don’t mean to be. I understand what they want. But this Act is not the answer.

Do not forget that this is an Act of Parliament. If the vote passes this Act will be enacted in 12 months’ time exactly as it is written now, without any chance to create any of the vital safeguards that are needed.

You cannot ignore that around 200 lawyers have said this Act is dangerous, that it will cause wrongful deaths because it is so badly written. Legally it is a dangerous Act.

You cannot ignore that almost 1800 doctors have said this Act is dangerous, that it will cause wrongful deaths. Medically it is a dangerous Act.

You cannot ignore that thirty psychologists have written an open letter outlining their concerns that this Act does not allow for an adequate assessment of mental capacity or competence, amongst other concerns, and will cause wrongful deaths.

Some years ago, I cared for a person who was angry on admission to hospice that we would not end his life, the only reason he had agreed to admission. He was convinced to stay, to give us a chance to improve his quality of life. Over the next few days, we were able to resolve many troubling symptoms. Not completely, but enough to make a huge difference in his life. He lived for a number of weeks longer and had some wonderful times with his family. Towards the end of his life he told me he was so incredibly grateful that we had not ended his life as he requested as he had greatly enjoyed his last weeks and some very special times with individual family members, healing some old wounds that would have otherwise remained.

Personally, I am deeply troubled by the supposed ‘conscientious objection’ I am legally allowed to make under this Act. If someone asks me to help end their life, I am not supposed to ask them what the issues might be that are causing them to ask me to end their life. I am not supposed to offer to ease those symptoms that might improve their quality of life. I am supposed to either assist them on the process to end their life or to refer them to an agency that I know will assist them. This is not conscientious objection; this is me passing the buck to someone else. I am still a part of the process. That makes me angry and it makes me sad. The person above? They could not have enjoyed those final weeks; they would not have been here to do so.

This is not all that is wrong with this Act; there are other issues I haven’t explained here, but these are the ones that speak to me most.

If you believe in euthanasia or the right to choose then please fight for a good law, a law that protects our vulnerable. Your ‘right’ should not be at the cost of someone else’s life. Vote No this month and fight for a better law in the future.

I plead with you all to please vote No, for the sake of every New Zealander, especially those who don’t really have a choice. Please vote No to stop a flawed, inadequate, dangerous law from being passed.

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